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Italy page 3

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Both armies were now preparing for the great battle which, to all appearance, was to decide the fate of Italy. Notwithstanding the confidence of Radetzky and his troops, the issue would have been very doubtful but for the superior generalship of that experienced commander. Owing, it is said, to democratic influence, the Piedmontese Commander-in-Chief, Bava, was removed from his post to make way for the Polish General already mentioned; and he unfortunately altered the plan of defence. Bava had resolved to take his stand on the- right, or southern, bank of the river, where he could have rested on the fortresses of Alessandria and Genoa, ' and where above all he could have kept open the communications with the capital, in which the enemy had threatened to dictate the terms of peace. But the new Commander-in-Chief, from political considerations more than military, crossed the Ticino, and concentrated his forces near Novara. Deceived by the strategy of the Austrian General, the communications with Turin were left exposed, and a movement was effected by the enemy by which they were entirely cut off. In pursuance of his plans, which were kept strictly secret, all his forces were by rapid marches brought together at Pavia. As the columns passed through that city, the eye of the spectator was fascinated by the variety of uniforms and equipments in the living masses, composed of Germans, Bohemians, Italians, Magyars, and Croats, all moving to the sound of music, with a proud step and in the highest spirits, from north to south through the town. Radetzky appeared on a balcony, and was hailed with deafening applause by the troops. The acclamations were renewed when the columns reached the opposite bank of the Ticino, and trod upon Sardinian territory. The Rubicon was crossed, and to all who beheld that host of 55,000 men, with 186 guns, the fate of Italy seemed to be sealed. Meantime the Italian General, Ramorino, who had been charged to defend the Ticino at Pavia, deceived as to the point of attack, violated his orders, and abandoned his position, recrossing the Po, and leaving open the direct road from Pavia to Turin, Therefore, the advanced guard of the Austrians, followed by the main body in rapid succession, advanced unexpectedly upon Mortara, which was carried after a severe contest of four hours. This was an advantage of immense importance to the Austrians; for the raw levies by which it was defended fled panic-stricken, and reported that all was lost. The Italian Commander-in- Chief, however, concentrated all his forces on the plain around Novara, and prepared for battle. His position was one well calculated to dispirit the troops; cut off from his bases of operation at Turin and Alessandria, he had no way of retreat, if defeated, but the Alpine valley of the Ticino, liable to be driven into the Lago Maggiore, or against the impassable mountain cliffs. Charles Albert, however, made the best possible arrangements under the circumstances. His army consisted of 50,000 men, including 3,000 horse, and 111 guns. The fighting commenced on the morning of the 23rd, the Archduke Albert leading the attack, which was at first successful. The Piedmontese Bersaglieri, being now under fire for the first time, were driven back in disorder, and partly dispersed. But the second regiment of Savoy, singing the " Marseillaise," encountered the pursuers, who were Hungarians, and drove them back from the ground they had won; while a cross-fire of artillery from the Piedmontese batteries played upon them with terrible effect. The second regiment of Piedmont joined their brethren, and pursued the enemy to the village of Olengo, which was stormed by the Duke of Genoa. The Austrians had been fighting till four o'clock in the afternoon, without having gained any ground, and if they had been a short time longer unsupported, the victory that day would have been with the standard of Piedmont. After the Duke of Genoa had exhibited prodigies of valour, again and again repelling the attacks of the flower of the Hungarian troops, a fresh division, consisting of seven battalions, was brought up, and joined in the battle. To meet these, the Duke in person led on his reserve, by which he succeeded in repulsing once more the Imperial forces. General Bern had orders to attack the Austrian centre at this point; but he was unable to do so till Radetzky appeared, preceded by twenty-four guns, which opened a raking fire on the centre of the Piedmontese. This movement was decisive. It was impossible to stand before such a murderous storm of shot and shell. It blew the Italian army into fragments. The ranks were now broken, and whole regiments were scattered and fled into the town. The Duke of Genoa, commanding the reserve, still maintained the conflict with desperate valour, endeavouring to arrest the disorder, and cover the retreat. But the reinforcements of the enemy now poured in like a deluge, and swept all before them. The battle was lost. A general retreat was sounded. The new levies fled in confusion, scattered over the country, and disappeared as soldiers for ever. The regular Sardinian troops, however, conducted their retreat in admirable order, firing at intervals upon the pursuing enemy. The conquerors entered the town during the night, and commenced the Work of plunder. The Austrian cavalry charged the crowd through the streets, flying in wild confusion along the only roads left open to them towards the Alpine barriers, where no supplies could be had to feed an army. Had they been hotly pursued next day, Radetzky could have boasted of the capture of 30,000 prisoners and 150 guns. The army retreated in two divisions; one commanded by the Duke of Savoy to Bielle, at the foot of the Alps; and the other by the Commander-in-Chief.

The King, who had acquitted himself nobly during the day as a general of division, saw now that his capital was at the mercy of the victors. He had, according to his promise, devoted his life to the cause of Italian independence. His two sons had on that fatal day proved that the best blood of the House of Savoy flowed in their veins, and that they were willing to shed the last drop in the same glorious cause. But in order to save their own country, as well as to have the means of serving Italy in future, it was necessary to come to terms. If the road to Turin had not been left open to the enemy they need not have despaired. The casualties were nearly equal on both sides. The Austrians lost between killed and wounded, 54 officers and 3,456 men. The Piedmontese lost 71 officers and about 2,400 killed and wounded, with about 3,000 prisoners. If the vanquished army could have reached its bases of operations it might have rallied, and the invaders might have been ultimately driven out of the country. But Charles Albert saw no hope now of retrieving his fortunes. It is recorded that about seven o'clock in the' evening, when he saw that the day was lost, he suffered himself to be led away by General Durando; but he still lingered under the walls of Novara, in the midst of a shower of bullets, saying - "General, this is my last day; let me die." He remained till about nine o'clock, when he announced to his generals and principal officers that, from that moment, 'Victor Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, was their king, saying - "I have sacrificed myself to the Italian cause; for it I have exposed my life, my children, my throne. I have failed. I am aware that I am the sole obstacle to a peace now become necessary to the State. I could not bring myself to sign it. Since I in vain sought death, I will give myself up as a last sacrifice to my country. I lay down the crown, and abdicate in favour of my son, the Duke of Savoy." Then, dismissing his attendants, he sat down and wrote a farewell letter to his wife. Shortly after midnight he appeared alone at one of the Austrian outposts, and narrowly escaped being shot as a spy. He told the sentinel that he was a Sardinian count, bringing proposals for an armistice. He was conducted to Count Thurn, to whom he announced the fact of his abdication. After a long conference he was permitted to pass through the Austrian lines, and escape to France, whence he retired to Portugal, where he died at Oporto, July 28th, 1849, of a broken heart.

Meantime, he had announced his abdication in a letter to the Duke of Savoy. When this letter was read to the agitated Assembly at Turin, M. Tosti rose and said, " Shall we sink from want of resolution P Is it always to be the reproach of Italy, that she wants energy in her own cause? For myself, when I consider the littleness with which I am surrounded, I see only one great and noble figure raise itself above all contemporaries - that figure is Charles Albert." All the deputies here rose exclaiming, "Honour to Charles Albert long live the Champion of Italy!" ' The enthusiasm was intense, the emotion uncontrollable, and all eyes were filled with tears. Pointing to the King's picture on the wall, the orator continued - " There is the image of the martyr of Italy. Your acclamations will be re-echoed through the entire peninsula. History will do him justice; and, at last, when the hour of Italy's deliverance shall have struck, it will avenge his memory, it will crown with immortality the King who has so valiantly drawn the sword for its deliverance. "An armistice was quickly concluded with Austria, whose hard terms were mitigated by the earnest mediation of France and England. Even so they were exceedingly humiliating to the national pride. The King of Sardinia was to disband ten military corps composed of Hungarians, Poles, and Lombards. Twenty thousand Austrian troops were to occupy the territory between the Po, the Ticino, and the Sesia, and to form one-half of the garrison of Alessandria, consisting of 6,000 men, a mixed military committee to provide for the maintenance of the Austrian troops. The Sardinians were to evacuate the duchies of Modena, Piacenza, and Tuscany. The Piedmontese in Venice were to return home, and the Sardinian fleet, with all the steamers, was to quit the Adriatic. In addition to all these stipulations, Sardinia was to indemnify Austria for the whole cost of the war. The reading of these terms to the Assembly at Turin threw it into a state of the most violent commotion. The armistice was denounced as unconstitutional, the Assembly voted itself en permanence, agreed to send a deputation to the King, and resolved, that should the Ministry permit the Austrian forces to enter the city of Alessandria, previous to the approval of the armistice by Parliament, or recall the Sardinian fleet from the Adriatic, it would be guilty of high treason. The citizens of Genoa were, if possible, more vehement in denouncing the armistice, whose conditions they considered iniquitous and fatal to the national interests and honour. They therefore determined to resist by force the carrying out of the armistice. The gates were closed, the tocsin was sounded, a Provisional Government was formed, and the Piedmontese general was required to surrender the citadel; the objects of the insurgents being to throw off their allegiance to the King of Sardinia, and establish a republic. After some fighting with the people, the garrison, consisting of 5,000 men, surrendered, and marched out of the city on the road to Turin. The King of Sardinia was not likely to acquiesce in such rebellious proceedings. General Delia Marmora was directed to march to Genoa at the head of an army of 34,000 men, invested with full civil and military authority, to bring the city to subjection. He announced, in a proclamation, that the city should be closely blockaded till it surrendered. On the 3rd of April, therefore, he declared it to be in a state of siege. Next day he commenced the attack. A truce was demanded, and agreed to, that the citizens might consider the terms proposed. It was, however, violated more than once by the foreign leaders of the insurrection, who set free and armed all the prisoners in the gaols. It is stated - apparently on the authority of Lord Hardwicke, who commanded her Majesty's ship Vengeance, stationed in the harbour for the protection of British subjects - that the object was, by a sudden attack on the King's troops and the Civic Guard, to make themselves masters of the naval arsenal and batteries, liberate the galley-slaves, and commence a general pillage. The authorities then appealed to Lord Hardwicke for succour; whereupon, the Vengeance was anchored under the Mole, with springs on her cables, and in such a position as to command the batteries and overawe the insurgents. Alison thinks that by this conduct on the part of the British commander, " the conflict, which had already begun a second time, both inside and outside the town, between the King's troops and the insurgents, was quelled, and Genoa saved from probably the greatest calamities ever endured in its long and glorious annals." General Avezzana, however, who commanded in the city, wrote a strong letter to Lord Hardwicke, reproaching him with assuming this attitude of hostility against the people in their struggle for liberty contrary to the wish of the English nation. He concluded his letter as follows: - " I hereby inform you that I will grant you till six o'clock to consider your course; and if your lordship is not then in a peaceful attitude, the battery of the people will be turned on you, and I will sink your ship at her anchor - a circumstance that will teach your Government that when they give the command of their national vessels to men of rank, they should also be men of sense." To this Lord Hardwicke replied as follows: - Sir, - " This is to acknowledge the receipt of your most extraordinary and most insolent letter. The only answer I can make to such a communication is to let you know that I have received it, and carefully considered its contents; and for your satisfaction, I now enclose a copy of a letter I have addressed to her Britannic Majesty's allies in the port of Genoa."

The result of the siege was that the city surrendered unconditionally on the 11th of April, the principal leaders having escaped in an American steamer to Marseilles. The Sardinian Assembly, however, continued to be in such ill-humour, and so refractory, that Victor Emmanuel got rid of the difficulty by dissolving the Parliament in November. In a proclamation which followed this act, thp King said, " that the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies in no way compromises the liberties of the country. They are placed under the protection of the venerated memory of Charles Albert, my father; they are confided to the honour of the House of Savoy, and guaranteed by the sanctity of my oath.

... I have a right to call the Chamber to severe account for its last acts; and I confidently appeal to the judgment of Italy and of Europe. I concluded with Austria an honourable and not ruinous treaty. The honour of the country, the sanctity of my oaths, commanded me to execute it faithfully without any mental reservation or subterfuge. My ministers having demanded its ratification, the Chamber imposed a condition which rendered the ratification unacceptable, by destroying the mutual independence of the three Powers, and thus violating the statute of the kingdom. I have sworn to maintain justice, and to ensure to each the free exercise of his right. I promised to save the nation from the tyranny of parties, whatever might be the name, the condition, and the rank, of the men who compose them. I fulfil those promises and oaths by dissolving a Chamber which had become impracticable, and by immediately convoking another Chamber. But if the country, if the electors, deny me their co-operation, the responsibility of future events shall no longer rest on me, and the commotions that may ensue must not be ascribed to me, but to themselves."

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Pictures for Italy page 3

Piedmontese troops
Piedmontese troops >>>>
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi >>>>
The Royal palace Milan
The Royal palace Milan >>>>

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