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Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2


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What followed at Milan is described by the author previously quoted. When the Emperor and Victor Emmanuel appeared together in the streets, their progress was, in truth, a triumphal march. The King did not try to conceal the deep emotion which his face betrayed; and the Emperor himself, notwithstanding his phlegmatic temperament, could not control the joy he felt. During the stay of the two Sovereigns at Milan, there was a continuous succession of feasts and illuminations. Bright days and glorious moonlit nights added to the effect of these heartfelt rejoicings. After dark, the palaces, the Corsi, the piazzas, and the churches were ablaze with thousands of coloured lamps, with myriads of tricolour flames; and a multitude in procession, bearing torches, streaming slowly like a river of fire, with a perpetual surge, and the ceaseless sound of voices. The glorious names of Montebello, Frassinetto, Palestro, and Magenta were everywhere woven in the festoons of flowers with those of Victor Emmanuel, Napoleon, Italy, and Prance. It is stated that such was the public excitement in those days, that many persons actually went mad. But in the midst of these tumultuous scenes of delirious joy, the Milanese were not so dazzled by the splendour of majesty as to forget the man whose great mind had conceived the thoughts which the two Sovereigns had embodied in action - the architect of a national structure, of which they were now laying the foundations. Count Cavour was also at Milan, and his portrait, which only a few days before it would have been treason to exhibit, was now displayed in every shop, and at every window, surrounded by a large laurel crown. The count could scarcely drive through the streets, or show himself at the theatre, without rousing the enthusiasm of the crowd. To escape from such continued ovations, he sometimes went through the city on foot. On one of these occasions he was recognised by two young ladies, who ran up and embraced him, and took from his coat the ribands of his order, as a souvenir of their great countryman. The aristocracy were not less enthusiastic; while the priests themselves were led away by the general excitement. A Te Deum was sung in the magnificent cathedral, the shrine of St. Carlo was opened, and the blessing of God invoked upon the heads of the liberators.

The Austrians, who had abandoned Milan in so much haste, had halted at Malegnano, half way between Milan and Lodi, where they remained for the purpose of protecting the main army in its retreat, after the defeat at Magenta. The French, aware of their object, hastened to attack them, and on the 8th of June, three divisions, under Marshal Baraguay d'Hilliers, arrived at that town, about five o'clock in the afternoon. The order to advance was immediately given. No resistance was met until they came to a cemetery on the left of the road, just before the entrance to the town. This cemetery was occupied by the enemy in great force. It was surrounded by a wall from fifteen to eighteen feet high, and covered outside with tombstones of black marble embedded in it, the only entrance being a large, massive, iron gate. Benches from a little chapel which is enclosed by the wall, and ladders, were placed against the enclosure to serve as a banquette to the defenders. There was a river crossing the main road, the bridge over which had been broken, and immediately behind the cemetery there was a large farmhouse, which was loopholed. The windows in the streets were occupied by riflemen. Notwithstanding the strength of these positions, one after another was rapidly carried at the point of the bayonet, the Zouaves, as usual, leading the way. Alter this there was a desperate and protracted street fight, every house being strongly occupied and obstinately defended. " Concealed behind the windows," wrote the Times' correspondent, 14 the enemy, sufficiently protected, directed a murderous fire on the attacking columns. They never showed themselves for an instant openly; but loading behind the walls, ran out and fired. In spite of this disadvantage, which occasioned a good deal of loss, one house after another was cleared of the Austrians, and in two hours they were driven out of the town with considerable loss. The French loss amounted to 50 officers and 800 men killed and wounded."

The Emperor and the King did not rest long upon their laurels at Milan; they followed the retreating Austrians across the plain of Milan, meeting no check till they reached the Mincio on the 23rd of June. The line of the two armies was formed, and extended from the shores of the Lago di Garda, at Desenzano, along the western edge of the hilly country, till, bending back, it touched the Chiese at Carpenedolo. The Emperor, with the guards as a reserve, took up his position at Montechiaro: and the King, with his staff, at Sonato. Contrary to expectation, the Austrians crossed the Mincio, and assumed the offensive. The whole Austrian army formed the line of battle, which extended five leagues in length, from Peschiera - on which they leant their extreme right - down into the plain of the Mincio, intersecting the great road to Goito. The Emperor of Austria was present, having chosen for his headquarters Cavriana, a place in the centre of the line, the village of Solferino being the key of the whole position. Each of the armies had mistaken the movements of the other, though the French had sent up a man to reconnoitre in a balloon; it consequently happened that they came unexpectedly into collision. This occurred on Friday, the 25th of June. To a spectator, who could take in a view of the whole of those embattled hosts, the spectacle must have been awful. The forces of two of the greatest empires in the world were marshalled on that ground under the command of their respective sovereigns - empires which had often come into collision before, whose policy had almost constantly clashed, and whose people were inspired by hereditary animosity. The battle-field was classic ground; the prize contended for, the most beautiful country in Europe; the political and moral interests at stake, of the most momentous character; and the issues of the conflict destined to affect the condition and history of Europe for many an age. No less than 400,000 men stood armed and ready for the encounter. All the terrific appliances of modern warfare, all the machinery that had been recently invented for destroying human life with greater rapidity, were there, under the guidance of science and skill. A picture more sublimely terrific was perhaps never presented in the history of war. The moral interest of the scene was enhanced by the object of the impending battle. Victor Emmanuel, the constitutional sovereign of a small state, was aided by a despotic Emperor in his long-meditated mission to liberate and unite Italy, which had been for ages divided "and oppressed by a foreign power. If he failed - if the battle-field should prove another Novara, he had before him the fate of his father, which he had sworn to avenge. If he succeeded, the most glorious destiny awaited him; he would be the king of free, united Italy, and would realise a state of things of which poets had dreamed, but which none but enthusiastic patriots like Mazzini and Garibaldi had hoped to see accomplished.

The Emperor of the French having issued his orders to Marshal Mac Mahon (whom he had created Duke of Magenta), to Marshal Canrobert, General Niel, and the rest, he took up his position on the heights in the centre of the line of battle. Meantime, Marshal Baraguay d'Hilliers had arrived at the foot of the steep hill on which the village of Solferino was built. This village was defended by considerable forces, which were entrenched in an old castle and a large cemetery, both surrounded by thick and crenellated walls. Several other generals had been ordered to concentrate their forces on the same point. The Austrian Emperor was posted on the hill behind Solferino, and in front of the village of Cavriana, from which, however, he was soon compelled to retire by the shells, which fell thick around him when the battle began to rage. The fighting went on simultaneously along the whole line, so that, in fact, there was a series of battles being fought at the same time at different points of the immensely-extended lines; the horrors of the scene being increased by a tremendous thunder-storm which burst over the battlefield, darkening the air, and deluging the combatants with rain. The Times' correspondent, stationed on the heights above Solferino, thus described the progress of the stupendous struggle: - "The small puffs of the muskets exploding were lost in the immensity of the landscape. It was only when volleys of artillery followed each other in rapid succession, that the smoke took a distinct form. It was soon lost, however, in the general haze, and only broken again by the white parabola of rockets, of which the Austrians were making considerable use. The forms of the men were lost to the eye in the vast proportions of the fight; and it was only when heavy masses lay together, and they assumed an aggregate shape, that any conception could be obtained of their presence. With a telescope, one could see, as it were, myriads of men on each side fighting at all points; dead bodies of men and horses strewn on the ground, with the wreck of uniforms and arms; but, to the naked eye, it seemed as if a vast ant-hill were in motion, men becoming pigmies, as they doubtless are in encounters of such magnitude."

The result was given in a telegram from the Emperor. The battle lasted from four o'clock in the morning till eight o'clock in the evening. The Austrians were compelled to abandon all their positions, and they withdrew during the night, having blown up the bridge of Goito. The allies took thirty cannon, three flags, and 7,000 prisoners. " General Niel," said the Emperor, "and his corps have covered themselves with glory, as well as the whole army. The Sardinians inflicted considerable loss on the enemy, after contending with great fury against superior force." According to the Austrian account, the collision of the two armies took place at 10a.m. "In the afternoon a concentrated assault of the enemy was made upon the heroically-defended town of Solferino. Our right wing repulsed the Piedmontese; but, on the other hand, the order of our centre could not be restored. Losses extraordinarily heavy, a violent thunder-storm, the development of powerful masses of the enemy against our left wing, and the advance of his main body against Volte, caused our retreat, which began late in the evening." Francis Joseph, as already stated, was compelled to abandon his position at Cavriana; and Louis Napoleon proudly announced to the Empress that he had passed the night in the room occupied on the morning of the battle by the Emperor of Austria.

Garibaldi, as we have already seen, obtained the command of the Chasseurs of the Alps. In his interview with Victor Emmanuel, previous to the commencement of hostilities, after talking over maps and discussing plans, the general requested the King to leave him free to act according to circumstances; to which he replied - " Go where you like; do what you like! I feel only one regret: that I am not able to follow you." In five hours the general was at the head of his volunteers. On the 9th of May he arrived at Verona, after a long and tiresome day's march; thence he proceeded to Vercelli, where he repulsed the enemy; and on to Biella, continually skirmishing with the Austrian outposts, nigh and day; now up in the mountains, now down on the plains, until at length, with the whole of his small army, he arrived in Lombardy. "After a lapse of eleven years of misery and anxious expectation, the Italian volunteers had again passed the rubicon of Italian freedom and regeneration. But this time they were not to cope alone with the forces of Austria." The policy of the general was, by rapid movements, and by showing his forces in different and remote places at the same time, to give the enemy the idea that he had the command of a large army, and so to operate as a diversion in favour of the allied armies. On entering Lombardy he issued the following proclamatiom: - " Lombards! you are called to a new life, and you will respond to the appeal as your fathers did of yore at Ponsiela and Legnano. The enemy is the same as ever: pitiless, a black assassin, and a robber. Your brethren of every province have sworn to conquer or to die with you. It is our task to avenge the insults, the outrages, and the servitude of twenty generations. It is for us to leave our children a patrimony freed from the pollution of a foreign domination. Victor Emmanuel, chosen by the national will for our supreme chief, sends me to organise you for this patriotic fight. I deeply feel the sanctity of this mission, and I am proud to command you. To arms, then! bondage must cease. He who can seize an arm and does not is a traitor! Italy, with her children united and freed from foreign domination, will know how to reconquer the rank which Providence has assigned her among nations."

The battle-field of Solferino, as it appeared to a visitor on the following morning, exhibited in more than the ordinary measure the horrors of war. The smoke of the artillery no longer blackened the air; the sky was clear; the clash of arms, the beating of drums, the explosions of musketry and cannon had ceased; and to the excitement and tumult of the conflict had succeeded a mournful tranquillity, the awfulness of which no pen can describe. The cemetery had been the scene of one of the bloodiest struggles. There parties of Prench soldiers were still occupied in burying their dead. A broad, deep ditch had been excavated at the entrance of an adjoining convent, and into this ditch were thrown, without distinction, friends and foes. The silence was now and then broken by the piercing cries of the wounded who were calling for help. The ambulances were full, and train after train passed along the bye- roads, carrying wounded soldiers to Castiglioni and Brescia. Occasionally a discussion would break out among the men concerning the identification of a dead body just picked up in the cemetery, or amidst the trampled vineyards of the slopes. Farther back, through the lanes and streets of Solferino, up to the narrow platform where the square tower rears its massive walls, the same sad scenes were to be witnessed. In the distant fields the peasantry were taking advantage of the confusion which never fails to characterise the day after a great battle, and were busy rifling the dead. The mad towards Cavriana presented the same scenes of desolation as the cemetery. The farms scattered right and left, and the solitary chapel peeping out from a grove of cypresses at the turn of the road, or on the hillside, had each its heap of dead. The small walls which divide the farms were half thrown down by the explosion of the shells or the concussion of round shot. Groups of children and women were walking to and fro with baskets on their shoulders, carrying provisions to the different bivouacs. This picture of human misery was relieved by the gay hum of the camps, and the music of the military bands playing in the roadside fields. Death and life were there fantastically mingled. At some distance the fields around the cypress mount and the declivity of the hill were literally covered with dead bodies. The corpses were heaped together without any clothing, for they had been stripped by the neighbouring peasants, some of whom were dressed in. French and Austrian uniforms. One appeared clad in a lancer's green vest; another in a Zouave jacket of the Imperial Guard; while children strutted in the short white tunics of the Bohemian soldiers. At San Martino, the field which the Italian troops had bravely held for many hours against overwhelming odds, the scenes were still more appalling. The ground was heaped with corpses, and almost every farm had been turned into a hospital. In spite of the horrible effluvia which polluted the air, the gallant army of Victor Emmanuel was still encamped on that fatal spot, preparing their dinners or cleaning their muskets, while large numbers of workmen were busy digging graves and burying the dead. Amidst those scenes of havoc civilians were sometimes met, and even ladies, anxiously inquiring about their relatives.

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Pictures for Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

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

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