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Battle of Solferino

Battle of Solferino
Part of the Second Italian War of Independence

The Battle of Solferino, by Adolphe Yvon
Date 24 June 1859
Location Solferino, Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia
(present-day Lombardy, Italy)

Result Franco-Sardinian victory
Armistice of Villafranca (12 July 1859)
Belligerents
France
Sardinia
Austria
Commanders and leaders
Napoleon III
(Emperor of France)

Victor Emmanuel II
(King of Sardinia)
Franz Joseph I
(Emperor of Austria)
Strength
138,000[1]
French & Sardinian
129,000[1]
Casualties and losses
French:[2]
1,622 killed
Including 117 officers
8,530 wounded
1,518 MIA
Sardinian:[2]
691 killed
Including 49 officers
3,572 wounded
1,258 MIA
Austrian:[2]
2,386 Killed
Including 94 officers
10,634 wounded
9,290 MIA

The Battle of Solferino (referred to in Italy as the Battle of Solferino and San Martino) on 24 June 1859 resulted in the victory of the allied French Army under Napoleon III and Sardinian Army under Victor Emmanuel II (together known as the Franco-Sardinian Alliance) against the Austrian Army under Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs. Perhaps 300,000 soldiers fought in this important battle, the largest since the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. There were about 130,000 Austrian troops and a combined total of 140,000 French and allied Piedmontese troops. After this battle, the Austrian Emperor refrained from further direct command of the army.

The battle led the Swiss Jean-Henri Dunant to write his book, A Memory of Solferino. Although he did not witness the battle (his statement is contained in an "unpublished page" included in the 1939 English edition published by the American Red Cross), he did tour the field following the battle, and was greatly moved by what he saw. Horrified by the suffering of wounded soldiers left on the battlefield, Dunant set about a process that led to the Geneva Conventions and the establishment of the International Red Cross.

Contents

  • The Battle 1
    • Opposing forces 1.1
    • Battle commences 1.2
    • Battle of Medole 1.3
    • Battle of Solferino 1.4
    • Battle of San Martino 1.5
    • Results 1.6
  • Aftermath 2
  • The battlefield today 3
  • References in popular culture 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

The Battle

The Battle of Solferino was a decisive engagement in the Solferino and San Martino, Italy, south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.

The confrontation was between the Austrians on one side, versus the French and Piedmontese forces who opposed their advance. In the morning of 23 June, after the arrival of emperor Franz Joseph, the Austrian army changed direction to counterattack along the river Chiese. At the same time, Napoleon III ordered his troops to advance, causing the battle to occur in an unpredicted location. While the Piedmontese fought the Austrian right wing near San Martino, the French battled to the south of them near Solferino against the main Austrian corps.

Opposing forces

Map of the battle (printed c.1888), in Meyers Lexikon, Vol.15, p.10-11.

The Austrian forces were personally led by their militarily inexperienced 29-year-old emperor, Franz Joseph, and were divided into two field armies: 1st Army, containing three corps (III, IX and XI), under Franz von Wimpffen and 2nd Army, containing four corps (I, V, VII and VIII) under Franz von Schlick.

The French army at Solferino, personally led by Napoleon III, was divided in four Corps plus the Imperial Guard. Many of its men and generals were veterans of the French conquest of Algeria and the Crimean War, but its commander-in-chief had no military experience of note. The Sardinian army had four divisions on the field.

Battle commences

According to the allied battle plan formulated on 24 June, the Franco-Sardinian army moved east to deploy along the right river banks of the Mincio. The French were to occupy the villages of Solferino, Cavriana, Guidizzolo and Medole with, respectively, the 1st Corps (Baraguey d'Hilliers), 2nd Corps (Mac-Mahon), 3rd Corps (Canrobert), and 4th Corps (Niel). The four Sardinian divisions were to take Pozzolengo. After marching a few kilometers, the allies came into contact with the Austrian troops who had entrenched themselves in those villages. In the absence of a fixed battle plan, the fighting which took place was uncoordinated, which is why so many casualties occurred, and it fell into three separate engagements, at Medole (south), Solferino (center) and San Martino (north).

Battle of Medole

The battle started at Medole around 4 am. Marching towards Guidizzolo, the 4th Corps encountered an Austrian infantry regiment of the Austrian 1st Army. General Niel immediately decided to engage the enemy and deployed his forces east of Medole. This move prevented the three corps (III, IX and XI) of the Austrian 1st Army from aiding their comrades of the 2nd Army near Solferino, where the main French attacks took place.

The French forces were numerically inferior to the Austrians'. The 4th Corps contained three infantry divisions under de Luzy, Vinoy and Failly and a cavalry brigade. Niel, holding a thin line of 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) in length, was able to stop the Austrian assaults on his position by ably warding off attacks and counterattacking at opportune moments. After 15 hours of combat the Austrians retreated, both sides having lost in total nearly 15,000 men.

Battle of Solferino

Around 4:30 am the advance guard of the 1st Corps (three infantry divisions under Forey, de Ladmirault, and Bazaine, and a cavalry division under Desvaux) came into contact with the Austrian V Corps under Stadion near Castiglione delle Stiviere.

French infantry advances (by Carlo Bossoli)
Sardinian troops charge at San Martino
(by Luigi Norfini)

Around 5 am 2nd Corps under Mac-Mahon (two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade under La Motterouge, Decaen and Gaudin) encountered Hungarian units posted near Ca’Morino (Medole). The Austrian forces were three corps strong (I, V and VII) and positioned on the towns of Solferino, Cavriana and Volta Mantovana. The Austrians were able to hold these positions all day against repeated French attacks.

Near 3 pm the French reserves, formed by Canrobert’s 3rd Corps and the Imperial Guard under Regnaud, attacked Cavriana, which was defended by the Austrian I Corps under Clam-Gallas, finally occupying it at 6 pm and thereby breaking through the Austrian center. This breakthrough forced a general retreat of both Austrian armies.

Battle of San Martino

On the northern side of the battlefield the Sardinians, 4 divisions strong, encountered the Austrians around 7 am. A long battle erupted over control of Pozzolengo, San Martino and Madonna della Scoperta. Although the Austrian VIII Corps under Benedek was numerically inferior, they were able to ward off all Sardinian attacks until the entire Austrian army retired from the field at the end of day.

Results

The battle was a particularly gruelling one, lasting over nine hours and resulting in over 2,386 Austrian troops killed with 10,807 wounded and 8,638 missing or captured. The Allied armies also suffered a total of 2,492 killed, 12,512 wounded and 2,922 captured or missing. Reports of wounded and dying soldiers being shot or bayonetted on both sides added to the horror. In the end, the Austrian forces were forced to yield their positions, and the Allied French-Piedmontese armies won a tactical, but costly, victory. The Austrians retreated to the four fortresses of the Quadrilateral, and the campaign essentially ended.

Aftermath

Napoleon III was moved by the losses, as he had argued back in 1852 "the French Empire is peace", and for reasons including the Prussian threat and domestic protests by the Roman Catholics, he decided to put an end to the war with the Armistice of Villafranca (12 July 1859). The Piedmontese won Lombardy but not Venetia. Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, resigned.[3] The Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861.

This battle would have a long-term effect on the future conduct of military actions.

  • The French Army 1600–1900
  • The Battle of Solferino
  • (Russian) Mikhail Dragomirov. (1861) Battle of Solferino. (With two plans) (Сольферинская битва. (с двумя планами)) at Runivers.ru in DjVu format

External links

  1. ^ a b Fink, Humbert (1994). Auf den Spuren des Doppeladlers. Berlin. 
  2. ^ a b c von Hellwald, Friedrich (1864). Der feldzug des jahres 1809 in Süddeutschland. Vienna. 
  3. ^ Napoléon III, Pierre Milza, Perrin edition, 2004
  4. ^ http://www.ifrc.org/meetings/events/solferino/index.asp
  5. ^ http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/cfsp/108692.pdf
  6. ^ Valotti, Gianluigi (December 2014). Solferino 1859, I feriti francesi ricoverati a Manerbio. Sardini Editore.  
  7. ^ Valotti, Gianluigi (2015). Solferino 1859. Les blessés français soignés à Manerbio. Sardini Editore.  

References

The Battle of Solferino was depicted also in a 2006 television drama Henry Dunant: Du rouge sur la croix (English title: "Henry Dunant: Red on the Cross"), which tells the story of the signing of the Geneva Conventions and the founding of the Red Cross.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "The Forced Recruit at Solferino" commemorates this battle (Last Poems 1862). Joseph Roth's 1932 novel Radetzky March opens at the Battle of Solferino. There, the father of the novel's Trotta dynasty is immortalized as the Hero of Solferino.[6][7]

References in popular culture

Nearby Castiglione delle Stiviere, where many of the wounded were taken after the battle, is the site of the museum of the International Red Cross, focusing on the events that led to the formation of that organization.

At Solferino there is also a museum, displaying arms and mementos of the time, and an ossuary, containing the bones of thousands of victims.

There is a circular tower, Tower of San Martino della Battaglia, dominating the area, a memorial to Victor Emmanuel II. It is 70 m high and was built in 1893. In the town there is a museum, with uniforms and weapons of the time, and an ossuary chapel.

The area contains a number of memorials to the events surrounding the battles.

The battlefield today

[5] adopted a declaration on the occasion stating that "This battle was also the grounds on which the international community of States has developed and adopted instruments of International Humanitarian Law, the international law rules relevant in times of armed conflict, in particular the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, the 60th anniversary of which will be celebrated this year."European Union of the Presidency The [4]

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