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Chapter XXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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Colonel Rüstow considers that there was a general want of toughness about the Italian troops, although in the course of the battle they exhibited much dash and bravery; also that they had not the advantage of that thoroughly efficient officering which was so noticeable in the Prussian army; and that there was a want, of inter-connection and prompt co-operation between the different parts of the line.

Cialdini, who was on the point of crossing the Lower Po, stopped his advance as soon as he heard of the disaster of Custozza, and fixed his head-quarters temporarily at Modena.

Garibaldi, with his volunteers - about 6,000 strong - accomplished nothing on the side of the Tyrol which could recall the memory of his former exploits. The nature of the materials which he had to discipline and make available Was shown at the outset in a very characteristic way. The volunteers would not wait for the day on which the Italian commander had announced that hostilities would commence, but made a hostile incursion across the frontier on the previous day, June 22nd. Garibaldi's headquarters were at Rocca d'Anfo, on the Lake of Idro. A sharp skirmish was fought on the 25th at the frontier bridge at Caffaro, a short distance from the northern end of the Lake of Idro, in which the Italians were beaten. They were again worsted at Monte Suello, near Bagolino, on Italian ground, on the 3rd July, the day of Königgrätz; in this affair Garibaldi was slightly wounded. Various slight skirmishes occurred on the frontier passes of the Tonal and the Stelvio, by which you cross from the head waters of the Oglio and the Adda into the Tyrol. On the whole, Garibaldi made no progress; and the Austrians, content with baffling his attempts, had no thought of taking the offensive. He had, it would seem, made a great miscalculation when he reckoned upon inoculating with revolutionary ideas the simple, loyal, religious nature of the Tyrolese peasant. Colonel Rüstow says that Garibaldi's main interest must have been to accustom his volunteers to stand fire, and to improve their organisation, especially by the elimination of worthless elements.

The disaster of Custozza, the full extent of which was for some time disguised by the Italian newspapers, and only gradually became known to the public, caused the withdrawal from La Marmora of the confidence both of the Government and the people. He was vehemently assailed on all sides, and had no choice but to send in his resignation. The chief command of the army was then given to General Cialdini. After Königgrätz, the Emperor of Austria ceded Venetia to the Emperor Napoleon, who accepted the transfer; and considering itself now free on the side of Italy, since it had nothing more to lose except the Trentino and Dalmatia, which, as events proved, the Tyrolese and the fleet were well able to guard, the Austrian Government recalled the 5th and the 9th Corps from Venetia to the defence of Vienna, now threatened by the advance of the Prussians. The Italians were now sure of Venetia; yet to obtain it in such a manner was galling to their pride, nor could they honourably desist from hostilities so long as the Prussian armies kept the field. Cialdini was accordingly ordered to cross the Po, and renew the invasion of Venetia. The passage was successfully effected near Massa on the 9th July, and Cialdini pressing forward occupied Rovigo and Monselice, and reached Padua on the 14th. His march was unopposed, for the Austrian force now remaining in Venetia, exclusive of the garrisons of the fortresses, was too weak to fight a battle, and it was no part of the policy of its commander to let the Italians win a cheap and easy victory. Meantime siege was laid to Borgoforte, a strong redoubt near the junction of the Mincio and the Po, by General Nunzianti. The batteries opened fire on the 17th, and the place was evacuated by the Austrians on the night of the 18th. As Cialdini advanced, the small Austrian field force, commanded by General Maroicic, continually retired, falling back successively behind the Piave, the Tagliamento, and the Isonzo. Udine was occupied by the Italians on the 24th July. A truce was concluded the next day, which was extended from week to week till the 12th August, when an armistice was agreed to, the line of the Indrio being fixed as the line of demarcation between the troops on either side.

The Italians had nourished the ardent hope that while Cialdini cut off Venice from succour on the land side, their iron-clad fleet might force its way into the lagoons, and compel Austria to relax her hold on the peerless Queen of the Adriatic. This hope was destined to be disappointed. By sea as well as by land defeat and disgrace were to await the Italian arms. Italy was to owe everything to the sword of Prussia and the patronage of France; nothing to her own exertions. A powerful fleet, including the ram Affondatore, eleven iron-clads, six or seven heavy wooden frigates, and several corvettes, had been fitted out at an expense which the disordered finances of the new kingdom could ill afford, and was believed to be capable of defeating with ease the fleet of Austria. Admiral Persano, who was in command, had distinguished himself on several previous occasions, and inspired his countrymen with entire confidence in his- courage and skill. Sailing from Tarento, he concentrated, the fleet at Ancona on the 25th June, and remained there for a long time inactive. A clamour was raised against him on this account, and he was at last positively ordered by the Minister of Marine to take his fleet to sea. A descent on Lissa was the enterprise fixed upon, for two principal reasons. The island of Lissa has excellent and roomy harbours, in which a fleet of iron-clads could lie far more commodiously than in the crowded port of Ancona; moreover, its reduction would be an important step towards the conquest of Dalmatia, which, as an ancient appendage to Venice, the Italians were bent upon appropriating as one of the trophies of the war. On the 16th July, Admiral Persano put to sea from Ancona, and steamed across the Adriatic to Lissa. The next three days were employed in useless and somewhat feeble endeavours to land a force on the island and silence the batteries. The last attempt was made at daybreak on the 20th, and it was on the point of being abandoned when one of his corvettes brought to Persano the intelligence that the Austrian fleet was bearing down upon him. The Admiral then formed his ships in order of battle to the north of the island.

Admiral Tegethoff, the same brave sailor who distinguished himself in the naval action against the Danes off Heligoland, in 1864, had been for some time stationed at Fasana, in Istria, where he was in a position to protect "Venice or Trieste if attacked, and close to the important arsenal of Pola. When he first heard that the Italian fleet was off Lissa, he believed the movement to be only a feint to draw him away from the coast of Istria; but when later advices convinced him that the attack on the island was serious, he resolved to sail to its assistance. The fleet with which he sailed from Fasana was in a high state of efficiency, and consisted of three divisions - ironclads, wooden frigates, and wooden corvettes - seven of each; to these were added four swift dispatch-boats, or tenders, so that the aggregate included twenty-five vessels, with upwards of 500 guns. The Italian fleet was of much superior force; it consisted at the time of the engagement of thirty-three vessels, one of them being the formidable ram, Affondatore, from which great things were expected. Tegethoff, on nearing Lissa, disposed j his fleet in three lines, each formed in the shape of a wedge, the apex of which was towards the enemy; the seven iron-clads formed the first wedge, the wooden frigates the second, and the corvettes the third. Like Nelson bearing down on the enemy at Trafalgar, the brave Tegethoff, in his flag-ship, the Archduke Ferdinand Max, assumed the post of danger and of glory at the apex of the leading division. The Italian fleet, when drawn up for battle, was arranged in four groups. Three of these, all heading eastward, contained three, four, and three ironclads respectively. The leading group was commanded by Ribotty, the second by Persano himself, who had hoisted his flag on board the Be d'ltalia, the third by Yacca. The wooden ships formed a fourth group in rear of the iron-clads. But before the battle began, Persano, without, it appears, communicating his intention to Vacca and Ribotty, quitted the Be d'Italia and went on board the Affondatore, which he ordered to be stationed on the side of the fleet remote from the advancing Austrians. A more unembarrassed direction of the movements of all his ships appears to have been Persano's object in this extraordinary step; but, besides that the position chosen seems to have been ill adapted for the purpose, the actual effect of the change was to leave the fleet without any direction whatever; for the Be l'Italia, to which every vessel in the fleet was looking for signals, made none, and those which proceeded from the Affondatore were not regarded. Tegethoff directed his iron-clads to steer, putting on all speed, so as to cut between the second and third groups of the Italian iron-clads. His own ship, the Ferdinand Max, admirably handled by his flag-captain, Max Baron von Sternek, " ran aboard, within the space of half an hour, three Sardinian iron-clads, of which two sustained heavy damages, the flag of one being captured, and the third, the Be d'Italia, one of the largest vessels in the Italian fleet, was run down and sunk within two minutes, with her whole crew of more than 600 men. All attempts to save the swimming men belonging to the Be d'Italia were obliged to be given up, as an attack made upon us from all quarters compelled us to confine our attention to our own safety." The battle soon became general, and each iron-clad was fully engaged, in addition to working its heavy guns, in eluding the onsets of hostile ships, and watching for a favourable opportunity of ramming an enemy. The Palestro, which had come up to the assistance of the Be d'Italia, was herself attacked by three or four Austrian iron-clads at once; and having her rudder disabled, and being set on fire, she drifted out of the action to the southward, and presently blew up. Her hole ship's company, except sixteen men, were drowned; nor was a much larger proportion rescued of the crew of the Re d'Italia. Some of the Italian iron-clads, passing through the first Austrian line, engaged the wooden frigates, the chief of which was the Kaiser, commanded by Commodore Petz. The Austrian Admiral says of this portion of the contest: " The melee became general, and it is difficult to give particulars of it, as the vessels were cruising about under full steam, and it was often hard to distinguish friend from enemy, although the gala set of flags were hoisted on both sides."

The line-of-battle ship Kaiser - the flag-ship of the second division - was engaged with four iron-clads simultaneously. Commodore Petz, using his ship as a ram, ran aboard of one of his assailants while firing concentrated broadsides into the others, and this under the most trying circumstances; for at the same moment in which ho struck the enemy, his foremast fell, crushed the funnel of the engine, and caused a good deal of confusion, without, however, seriously injuring any of the crew then on deck. The Kaiser lost 22 of her crew killed and 82 wounded. Her consorts in the wooden division suffered but little, some appearing to have escaped without a shot. As soon as he saw the critical position of his wooden vessels, Tegethoff, who had by this time disposed of the second and third divisions of the Italian iron-clads, steamed to their assistance, and the Kaiser was rescued from her numerous assailants and got safely into Lissa. All this time the group of wooden ships on the Italian side were looking on from a respectful distance; nor does the Affondatore appear to have taken any part in the action. After having lasted about four hours the battle gradually slackened; at two o'clock the firing was over; and Vacca, who supposed that the Admiral had gone down in the Be d'Italia, signalled to the remaining ironclads to assemble, and, forming column, to edge off to the westward. Persano, however, now came up in the Affondatore, and, assuming the command, placed himself at the head of the column, and led the fleet out of action. He returned to Ancona, where, soon after, the Affondatore sank at her anchors. On the 21st July, the Austrian Admiral returned, without having lost a single vessel, to the channel of Fasana. The consequences of this signal defeat by sea were very humiliating to the Italians. All hope of attacking Venice on the sea side must now be given up, and with it the ambitious dream of possessing Dalmatia and Illyria. A still louder outcry arose against Persano, through the length and breadth of the Peninsula, than had been directed against La Marmora. He was tried by the Italian Senate; his defence of his conduct was declared to be unsatisfactory, and he was deprived of all command in the Italian navy.

Meantime the victorious career of Prussia was carrying her arms without a check to the banks of the Danube and under the walls of Vienna. Marshal Benedek, after having put the Elbe between the Prussians and his exhausted troops, had to decide instantly what was to be done. An armistice was thought of; and Von Gablenz was sent on a mission to the Prussian head-quarters to see if one could be obtained; but on this, and on a subsequent visit made with the same object, he failed. Benedek found that his army was so disorganised and disheartened by the great defeat of the 3rd, that it was idle to think of defending the line of the Elbe. He resolved, therefore, to retire within the lines of the fortress of Olmütz, and there re-form his broken and wasted ranks and recruit his dilapidated resources. The 10th Corps, upon which the heaviest loss had fallen in the battle, was sent by rail at once to Vienna. The rest of his army, on reaching the friendly shelter of the ramparts of Olmütz, was allowed a little respite. But the Marshal gave himself no rest, but laboured unceasingly to repair the effects of Königgrätz. Though past sixty years of age, he displayed a capacity for work, both in the saddle and at the desk, which would have put to shame many a younger man. He was sincerely respected by all his officers, and adored by his men; and in the camp no feelings were entertained towards him but those of compassion and sympathy. But the press and populace of Vienna clamoured vehemently for his dismissal from the post of Commander-in-Chief; and this was presently done, though not in such a manner as to disgrace him. The Archduke Albrecht, the victor of Custozza, was appointed to the command of the Austrian Army of the North, with General von John for his Chief of the Staff. Benedek was left in command at Olmütz, with orders to send all the corps lately under his command, as soon as they were ready for the field again, by rail to Vienna, there to be united under the Archduke for the defence of the capital.

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Pictures for Chapter XXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

Marshal von Wrangel
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