First Italian War of Independence
|First Italian War of Independence|
|Part of the Wars of Italian Unification|
The Battle of Novara (1849)
| Kingdom of Sardinia
Italian Volunteer Army
Provisional Government of Milan
Republic of San Marco
Kingdom of Sicily
|Commanders and leaders|
|King Charles Albert||Josef Radetzky|
| 115.000 men
The First Italian War of Independence was fought in 1848 and 1849 between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Austrian Empire. The war saw main battles at Custoza and Novara in which the Austrians under Radetzky managed to defeat the Piedmontese.
The revolution of 1848
In 1848 revolutionary riots broke out in numerous places of Italy, as well in many other parts of Europe. Charles Albert in Piedmont and Leopold II in the Grand-Duchy of Tuscany had been forced to make concessions to the democrats. With Vienna itself in revolt, both Milan (in the Five Days) and Venice (the short-lived Repubblica di San Marco, reconquered by the Austrians in 1849), the main cities of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, under Austrian rule, revolted. Sicily, except Messina, expelled the Bourbon armies. Charles II of Bourbon also was compelled to leave the Duchy of Parma.
The Kingdom of Sardinia decided to exploit the apparently favourable moment, and declared war on Austria, in alliance with the Papal States and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and attacked the weakened Austria in her Italian possessions.
The Piedmontese army was composed of two corps and a reserve division, for a total of 12,000 troops. Artillery and cavalry were the best units. On March 21 the Grand Duke of Tuscany also declared his entrance in the war against Austria, with a contingent of 6,700 men. The Papal Army had a similar sized force, backed by numerous volunteers. On March 25 the vanguard of the II Piedmontese Corps entered Milan and two days later also Pavia was freed.
After an initial successful campaign, with the victories at Goito and Peschiera del Garda, Pope Pius IX recalled his troops due to fear of possible expansions of Piedmont in case of victory. The kingdom of the Two Sicilies also retired, but the general Guglielmo Pepe refused to return to Naples and instead went to Venice to protect it against the Austrian counter-offensive. King Ferdinand II's retreat was mainly due to the ambiguous behaviour of Charles Albert of Piedmont, who had not clearly refused the proposal to obtain the Sicilian crown received from representatives of the rebellious island.
In the revolutionary year of 1848, popular uprisings were springing up everywhere in Europe. Revolutionaries in many countries supported a revolution to establish constitutions and representative government in every corner of Europe and the world. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were among these revolutionaries. In 1848, Marx and Engels were located in Cologne, Germany where they were publishing the Neue Rheinisch Zeitung ("New Rhineland News"). In their writings for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Marx and Engels supported the popular demands for a constitution and a democratically elected government which were being raised in the uprisings throughout Europe. Additionally, in the Italian states there was an additional popular demand for a single unified national state. Like nearly all the political left in Europe Marx and Engels strongly supported this popular national demand by the Italian people. and in Germany.
However, a split in the political left was developing over the strategy and tactics to be employed in bringing about the unified state of Italy. The specific issue causing the debate was the role that France under Louis Napoleon should play in the unification of Italy. Both sides of the debate argued that uprisings of the Italian people against the foreign reactionary forces of Austria would occur as they had in the past. This time, however, it was likely to result in a unified state of Italy. One group of left revolutionaries argued that France's intervention in Italy against the Austrians would be helpful to the popular movement to unify Italy and promote democratic reform. This group argued that France would be joining the people's a war of liberation against foreign rule in Italy. According to radical émigré Ludwig Bamberger, France's role in the war would be progressive.
The other side in this debate between the radicals of the political left argued that Napoleon III of France would imitate his uncle Napoleon I and follow up his march into Italy with another march into Germany. Napoleon III would not liberate Italy from foreign rule, but would be creating another act of foreign aggression on Italy. Radicals like Jacob Venedey actually advised that revolutionaries of the political left should actually fight with the Austrians against the French in order to further the cause of the unification of Italy. Expressing his concern over the threat Napoleon III presented to the German unification following his escapade in Italy, Venedey said, "Fight, bleed and prevail for a united Germany and you will bring the united German parliament home from the battlefield."
The French did not enter the First War for Italian Independence in 1848. When the Piedmontese Army under Carl Albert King of Sardinia marched into Austrian held Italy with the intent of linking up with the revolutionaries of Venice, the Piedmontese met the large Austrian Army under Field Marshal Josef Radetzky. At the Curtatone on May 29, 1848, the Austrians attacked a combined force of Piedmontese and Tuscan troops. Although the Austrians won the battle, the resistance offered at Curtatone allowed the Piedmontese troops to regroup and win the Battle of Goito the next day—May 30, 1848.
However, the Piedmontese Army was defeated by Radetzky and the Austrians at Custoza on July 25, 1848. The defeat of the Piedmontese at Custoza was followed up by the capture of Milan on August 6, 1848 by the Austrians before an armistice could be signed later on August 9, 1848 between Austria and Sardinia. This armistice, however, lasted less than seven months, before Charles Albert denounced the truce on March 12, 1849. The Austrian army took the military initiative in Lombardy and heavily defeated the Piedmontese at Novara on March 23, 1849. After this victory the Piedmontese were driven back to Borgomanero at the foot of the Alps, and the Austrian forces occupied Novara, Vercelli, Trino and Brescia, with the road to the Piedmontese capital, Turin, lying open to them.
Charles Albert abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel, and a peace treaty was signed on August 9, 1849 and Piedmont-Sardinia was forced to pay an indemnity of 65 million francs to Austria.
The war marked the failure of Sardinia to defeat Austria singlehandedly. This caused Sardinia to seek allies against Austria and ultimately only with French (1859) and Prussian (1866) help would Sardinia be able to drive out the Austrians from Northern Italy.
- Engels, Frederick and Marx, Karl, Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 7 (International Publishers: New York, 1977).
- Engels, Frederick and Marx, Karl, Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 8 (International Publishers: New York, 1977).
- Engels, Frederick and Marx, Karl, Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 9 (International Publishers: New York, 1977).
- Fedoseyev, P. N., et al., Karl Marx: A Biography (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1973).
- Gemkow, Heinrich, et al., Frederick Engels: A Biography (Verlag Zeit im Bild: Dresden, 1972).
- Smith, Denis Mack, Modern Italy: A Political History (University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 1997).
- Sperber, Jonathan, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life (Liveright Publishing: New York, 2013).
- Heinrich Gemkow, Frederick Engels: A Biography, (Verlag Zeit im Bild: Dresden, 1972) pp. 167-197.
- P. N. Fedoseyev et al., Karl Marx: A Biography (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1973) pp. 166-168.
- P. N. Fedoseyev et al., Karl Marx: A Biography, pp. 326-327.
- Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx, A Nineteenth Century Life (Liveright Publishers: New York, 2013) p. 327.
- Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life, pp.327-328.
- Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life, p. 328.
- Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx, A Nineteenth Century Life, p. 328.
- Jonathan Speerber quoting Venedey contained in Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life, p. 328.
- See Note 196 on page 628 in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 7
- Denis Mack Smith, Modern Italy: A Political History (University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 1997) p. 19.
- See note 120 on page 552 of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 8 (International Publishers: New York, 1977).
- See note 145 on page 555 of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 9 (International Publishers: New York).
- See note 145 on page 555 of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 9.
- Frederick Engels, "The Defeat of ther Piedmontese" a two part article published in the March 30 and April 3, 1849 issues of Neue Rheinische Zeitung contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 9, p. 169.