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Chapter XXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3


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The Prussian plan, then, appears to have been this: that the main Italian army should march through or turn the Quadrilateral, leaving strong corps of observation to mask the fortresses, and should then cross the Alps into the German territories of Austria, somewhere to the north of Venice, and push forward towards Vienna. Meantime, an irregular and revolutionary force, under Garibaldi, landing on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, would advance into Hungary, excite the people to insurrection, and support the right flank of the regular army. La Marmora might well feel some surprise at the startling transformation which the views of the Prussian Government respecting the lawfulness of encouraging revolutionists had experienced. " In 1861," he says, " the Cabinet of Berlin reproved us severely for having profited by certain partial revolutions in Italy, our own house, in order to constitute our national unity: now, in 1866, it proposed that we should take in hand the business of suborning revolutions in a house that was not our own, because it suited the interests of Prussia." But our narrative has shown that on a much more recent occasion, no longer ago than January, 1866, Count Bismarck had addressed Austria in the language of grave rebuke, on account of her supposed inclination to favour revolutionary movements in Holstein. Yet here he was endeavouring with all his might to sow the seeds and reap the harvest of disloyalty and revolt, amid the vast non-German populations which had for centuries lived contentedly under the rule of the Austrian Kaisers!

La Marmora might fairly urge that, whatever the merits of the Prussian plan, it was communicated to him at too late a period to be of any service. He wrote immediately to Jacini, the new Foreign Minister at Florence, saying that he had not time to answer Usedom's note; and that the truth was, that, if he did answer it, he should have to say various disagreeable things, winch were better left unsaid. His own plan is said to have been to move the bulk of the Italian army, consisting of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Corps (each containing four strong divisions of 12,000 men each), across the Mincio, and upon the Adige direct; the movement being supported on the right by General Cialdini, who was to cross the Lower Po with his corps somewhere about Ferrara, and advance northwards, and on the left by Garibaldi and the volunteers, who were to operate against the Austrians in the region of Lake Garda, and endeavour to stir up an insurrection in the Tyrol.

On the 20th June, General La Marmora sent an officer of his staff to the Archduke Albrecht, announcing that the Italian army would commence hostilities on the 23rd. King Victor Emmanuel arrived at Goito (a small town on the Mincio, about fourteen miles below Peschiera) on the night of the 22nd; and before morning of the next day the whole of the 3rd Corps, and three divisions of the 1st Corps, forming a force of about 87,000 men, with 138 guns, were thrown across the Mincio at various points between Goito and Peschiera. The 1st Division of the 1st Corps, under General Pianelli, was left on the right bank of the Mincio, to observe the fortress of Peschiera.^ La Marmora's information department appears to have been badly managed; for so little did he know of the intentions which were entertained at the Austrian head-quarters, and of the position of the several Austrian corps, that he had persuaded himself that the Archduke would not make a serious stand anywhere between the Mincio and the Adige, but would fall back and defend the passage of the latter river. Under this persuasion, he resolved - the troops under his command having taken up suitable positions in the course of the 23rd - to move forward to his left on the 24th, and take up a position along the north-eastern face of the group of hills, of which Somma Campagna marks the extreme point to the eastward, with his right thrown back towards Villafranca and Mozzicane, places in the great sub- Alpine plain. From this position he might either have advanced north upon Pastrengo, if Garibaldi and his volunteers had gained any important successes on the Lake of Garda and about Riva, or he might have directed his march upon the Adige at some point below Verona, and endeavoured to cross there. The Archduke on his side resolved to seize the same group of hills for the folLowing reasons. An officer of his staff, who was sent to Somma Campagna on the afternoon of the 23rd, reported that the neighbouring heights were not yet occupied by the Italians, but that heavy clouds of dust could be seen to the south in the direction of Villafranca, moving, as he thought, towards the Adige. The Archduke was confirmed by this intelligence in the opinion which he had previously formed, that the Italians, after crossing the Mincio, would move due east to the Adige at Albaredo, cross the river there, and then co-operate with Cialdini on the Lower Po. Instead of attempting to cross their path, he resolved to seize the hills about Somma Campagna and Custozza, and from that strong vantage-ground fall on their left wing as it was marching across the plains. His troops, which were mostly encamped near Verona, and at villages within ten miles of that fortress to the westward, were ordered to move westward and southward on the morning of the 24th June, so as to occupy all the chief points in the group of hills. Thus, through a double misconception - each general attributing to the other designs which only existed in his own imagination - the armies were moving on the morning of the 24th along lines which intersected each other, and a serious collision was inevitable.

To make our account of the battle which ensued at all intelligible, a somewhat minute description of the field is indispensable. The group of hills already mentioned is somewhat triangular in shape, the apex of the triangle being at Peschiera, at the foot of the Lake of Garda, the south-western point at Valeggio on the Mincio, and the north-eastern point at Somma Campagna, seven or eight miles from Verona. The base of the triangle extends in an E.N.E. direction from Valeggio to Somma Campagna, and it, as well as the two sides, may be roughly stated at between six and seven miles in length. The little river Tione, flowing through the triangle from north to south, divides it into two unequal portions, the larger of which is on the side next Valeggio. Just where the Tione emerges from the hills, on its left or eastern bank, stands the village of Custozza, from whose elevated mount the eye ranges southwards over the boundless plains in the direction of the Po. Custozza is about midway between

Valeggio and Somma Campagna. Running parallel with the base of the triangle, at the distance of three or four miles from it, is the high road leading from Goito through Villafranca (which is just opposite the hill of Custozza) to Verona.

Heavy rain fell on the night of the 23rd, which must have caused great discomfort to the raw Italian troops bivouacking east of the Mincio. The next morning they were moved forward, if Captain Hozier's information be trustworthy, without having got their breakfast, without rations, and the infantry burdened with their heavy knapsacks, under the broiling midsummer sun of Italy. General La Marmora was so confident of the truth of his hypothesis respecting the Archduke's intentions, that he sent out no scouts or covering-parties, but moved forward as if no enemy were near. The division of Cerale, (1st Corps) forming the left wing, was near Alzarea - that is, near the northern face of the group of hills - the division of Prince Humbert, on the right, was well to the north-east of Villafranca, marching along the plains - when they unexpectedly encountered the vanguards of the Austrian corps, moving in the opposite direction.

The Austrian field army in Venetia, under the command of Archduke Albrecht, consisted of the 5th Corps, under Prince Lichtenstein; the 7th Corps, under Marshal Maroicic Madonna del Monte; the 9tli Corps, under Marshal Hartung; a division of reserve infantry, and another division of reserve cavalry - forming a total of about 63,000 men, with 168 guns. Colonel Rüstow estimates the force of Italian troops actually brought into action on the 24th at about 90,000 men, with 192 guns; so that the disparity of numbers was nearly as three to two. The division of Prince Humbert on the extreme right, supported by that of Bixio, were engaged all day with the Austrian reserve cavalry near Villafranca, neither side gaining any decided advantage. The Italian infantry had frequently to form squares to repel the cavalry, and Prince Humbert had more than once to take refuge within a square during one of these charges. The heat of the day was very oppressive, and caused frequent pauses in the fighting all along the line. To the west of the Tione, Cerale's division of the 1st Corps fell in with the advance of the reserve division of Austrian infantry near Alzarea, about seven o'clock in the morning. Falling back upon Oliosi, Cerale held that village strongly, and for a long time the Austrians made no progress. But the Archduke detached Piret's brigade of the 5th Corps from the other side of the Tione to the assistance of the reserve infantry; and, after a stubborn resistance, in the course of which Cerale was wounded, and Villarey, one of his generals of brigade, killed, the Italians were driven out of Oliosi. They retired on the strong position of Monte Vento, and made a stand there for some time; but Durando, commanding the 1st Corps, was disabled by a wound, and about two o'clock the Austrians stormed Monte Vento. The division then fell back in good order upon Valeggio. The Austrians did not venture to pursue them much beyond Monte Vento, for their right flank was at this time menaced by Pianelli. That General, commanding the 1st Division of the 1st Corps, had been left, as has before been stated, on the right bank of the Mincio; but, observing how the battle was going, he crossed the river at Monzambano, sent part of his division against an Austrian force which had made a sally from Peschiera, and drove it back to the fortress, and with the remainder operated against the right flank of the troops which had beaten Cerale. Meantime Sirtori, commanding another division of the 1st Corps, had advanced slowly on Cerale's right to Santa Lucia on the Tione, and there taken up a position. He did nothing to help Cerale while the heavy fighting was going on at Oliosi and Monte Vento; and after the Italians had fallen back from the latter place, and the 5th Austrian Corps began to press him in front, Sirtori, on the ground that he was no longer supported on the left, led back his division to Valeggio. Thus, by three o'clock, the whole left of the Italian army was driven from the field.

On the other side of the Tione the battle raged more fiercely. General Cugia, commanding a division of the 3rd Corps, had advanced beyond Custozza, when he encountered the vanguard of the Austrian 9th Corps, under Marshal Hartung, about the same time that Prince Humbert, on his right, was attacked by the reserve cavalry. Cugia struggled gallantly to hold his ground, and for a long time the battle remained stationary around the villages of Monte Torre and Madonna della Croce. To the left of Cugia, La Marmora himself led the Division Brignone into the battle. The two brigades composing this division were named - the one the Sardinian, the other the Lombard Grenadiers; they were among the crack troops of the Italian army. They advanced to Monte Godio; but here they were attacked by the Brigade Sendier of the Austrian 7th Corps, which held this part of the enemy's line, between his 5th and his 9th Corps; and after both brigade-commanders, General Gozzani and Prince Amadeo, had been wounded, the Division Brignone abandoned Monte Godio, and fell back on Custozza. General Govone now brought up his division, and occupied Bagolino, a little in rear of Monte Godio. But he was here attacked, not only by the remainder of the 7th Austrian Corps, but also by a brigade of the 5tli, which the retreat of Sirtori had left at liberty, and pushed back, after some hard fighting, from Bagolino. Cugia, his left being now exposed, fell back from Monte Torre, and about five o'clock the retreat of the Italian army became general. It was conducted, however, in perfectly good order, and the Austrians were too much exhausted to pursue with vigour. It was not till seven o'clock that the Austrians occupied the heights of Custozza, and pushed the Italian army completely off the hills. The retreat across the plains was covered by Bixio's division and the reserve cavalry.

During the latter half of the battle no Commander-in- Chief, if the current accounts may be trusted, directed the movements of the Italians. The generals of division retreated on their own responsibility, without having received orders. In the second part of General La Marmora's work, from which we have often quoted, an explanation and vindication of the author's military conduct, during and before the battle of Custozza, will doubtless be contained; till this appears, it seems only fair that we should suspend our judgment. According to the narrative of Colonel Rüstow (in which he is followed by Captain Hozier), La Marmora, after having led forward the Division Brignone, posted himself far in the rear, on the hill of La Gherla, whence he could see nothing. It is added that, about one o'clock, at the height of the conflict, he rode off to Goito (though he might just as well have sent an aide-de-camp with an order), to bring up the Divisions Angioletti and Longoni of the 2nd Corps; that, on arriving at Goito, he found nothing but a feeble vanguard, the main body of "both divisions having, in defiance of orders, remained quietly at their quarters on the other side of the Mincio; finally, that he then gave up all for lost, and sent one officer to Valeggio with orders to secure the crossing of the river, and another to Custozza to collect exact information about the battle. Such a story sounds incredible, taken as a whole; yet there is no doubt that La Marmora did ride to Goito during the battle, and his full explanation, when it appears, will be read with interest.

The divisions of Generals Govone and Cugia retreated to Valeggio, that of Brignone to Molino di Volta, those of Bixio and Prince Humbert to Goito. The whole Italian army recrossed the Mincio in the course of the next day (June 25), and fell back from the frontier behind the line of the Oglio. The bridge at Valeggio was broken down to impede pursuit. The Archduke sent a few detachments of cavalry across the Mincio, which scoured the country unopposed as far as the Chiese; but it was soon evident that lie had no intention of assuming the offensive, or of advancing in force into Lombardy.

The loss of the Austrians in the battle of Custozza amounted to 960 men killed, and 3,690 wounded, of whom 283 were officers. The missing were between 900 and 1,000 - these were chiefly prisoners taken by the Division Pianelli. The heavy loss in officers is to be ascribed to the accurate firing of the Italian Bersaglieri. The Italian loss amounted, in killed and wounded, only to 72-0 of the former, and 3,112 of the latter; but the list of missing amounted to 4,315, among whom were many wounded men, who were left on the field when the army retreated.

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Pictures for Chapter XXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3

Marshal von Wrangel
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Venice
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The Archduke Albrecht
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Peshiera
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Prague
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