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Austro-Sardinian War - 1848-1849

By 1845 the air of Italy became so charged with nationlist fervor that at any moment a spark might cause a conflagration. Austria, ever watchful, was specially alarmed. Marshal Radetzky, who had commanded the Austrian troops in Lombardo-Venetia since 1833, could see nothing but the cloven hoof of the devil of revolution. The same condition of things existed in the smaller States; in Lucca, whose ruler was a madman ; in Modena, under a petty tyrant; in Parma under the widow of Napoleon, dominated by a succession of lovers and husbands who could at the best but rank as mere Austrian agents. Of course these rulers did not distinguish between Mazzinians and Reformers, between Revolution and Moderate Liberalism. Like Austria, they felt themselves equally threatened by both ; and they trusted to Austrian aid against both, if necessary with good reason, for Austria was the true sovereign of all Italy, outside the kingdom of Sardinia. The Grand Duke of Tuscany was an Austrian prince and as well as an Italian ruler.

In Piedmont the case was different. On Charles Albert the writings on Reform, of Gioberti, Balbo, d'Azeglio and others, had produced a profound effect. He had always disliked Austria, and cherished the idea of expelling her from Italy by force of arms. The revival of public confidence in the King, notwithstanding his conduct in the rebellion of 1821, and his indefensible severities in 1833, was marked; and the hopes of the Liberals once more centred in him. He did not at once lay aside the reserve and mystery he had adopted since his accession; but the effect was none the less visible.

The state of affairs in Italy in 1846 may be thus summarised Naples motionless under the tutelage of Austria (which, however, the King personally resented), and disturbed by a Liberal agitation, which he ferociously repressed; Lombardy and Venice, to all appearance submissive and contented, but with a Liberal ferment gradually alienating the higher classes from the Government and extending among the lower. In the Papal States deep-seated evils were openly denounced: in the duchies of Lucca, Parma, and Modena, there was an ever growing divergence between rulers and ruled. In Tuscany an administration was slowly losing its old repute owing to its new reactionary tendencies; it was menaced by a Liberal agitation, and by the intervention of a secret Press, which not only demanded Reform but threatened the person of the Grand Duke himself. Piedmont alone was sound; the people were devoted to the dynasty; and the King, who had at last taken up a position of decided resistance to the overbearing policy of Austria, was slowly but surely carrying out his internal reforms.

Such was the condition of Italy at the death of Gregory XVI, June 1, 1846. The least that could happen, it was said, was that the Papal State generally and the turbulent Romagna in particular would be turned upside down ; that Austria would then intervene; and that she would be opposed by France, according to her already declared intention. In fact, the conflagration might extend to all Europe.

In view of possibilities, Metternich had ordered Radetzky, the Austrian Commander-in-chief in Italy, to be ready to reinforce the garrisons of Ferrara and to invade the Legations. France, on her side, warned Austria that her intervention would be followed by a French occupation of Civita Vecchia and Ancona. Metternich, thus aware of the possibility of Revolution in the Papal State, was ready to meet it. Nothing could cause so much suspicion and irritation to Austria as the knowledge that the rulers of Italy were solving her internal problems on their own account, especially if this action took the shape of an intervention by Piedmont in the Papal States.

Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, the new Pope, who assumed the name of Pius IX, had been created a Cardinal 1840 at Imola, where he witnessed a constant round of conspiracy, revolt, repression, Austrian intervention, imprisonments, banishments, sentences, and executions. The Papal Amnesty of July 16, 1846 proclaimed the pardon of all political offenders and suspects, and made Pius IX, historically speaking, the father of the political resurrection of Italy. A main clue to subsequent Italian history is to be found in the fact that Pius IX, unlike Metternich, did not see that his Amnesty meant war with Austria, and the independence of Italy. Metternich said to the Marquis Sauli, Sardinian Minister in Vienna: "We were prepared for everything except for a Liberal Pope ; now we have got one, there is no answering for anything."

In Italian States, such as Tuscany, Lucca, Modena, and Parma, popular attitudes had engendered an ever growing popular enthusiasm, which was rather of a frankly national and anti-Austrian, than of a merely reforming, temper; it had deeply stirred Naples and Sicily, while in Piedmont every opportunity was taken for patriotic demonstrations. Even in Lombardy and Venetia, the districts underdirect Austrian rule, the period of comparative contentment, or at least of resignation, was closing. The rural population was perhaps in different, but the urban middle class was thoroughly hostile to Austria, and the nobility and clergy were gradually following their lead. The Liberal party was divided into Mazzinians, supporters of Charles Albert, and anti-Austrians pure and simple. Every demonstration in favor of Pius IX, or of the system he was held to represent, meant further estrangement from Austria.

The Austrian occupation of Ferrara (July 17, 1847) hurried Italy prematurely into action. Together with the subsequent insurrection at Palermo, on January 12, 1848, which closes the period in which Reforms, and opens that in which Constitutions, were granted, the Ferrara occupation marks the beginning of actual warfare in fact the opening of the Italian Revolution of 1848.

Metternich's plans were thus ripening. Revolution and war were imminent; and he was ready to face both, for he possessed the superiority in force, and knew that the political situation in Europe would leave him a free hand. For France had broken with Great Britain, and attached herself to Austria, through fear of isolation; she could not therefore carry her counsels of Reform in Italy so far as to offend her new ally. Great Britain, it is true, favoured Reform ; for the rupture with France had in a measure forced her to accept the office of Defender of the Liberal faith, which France had inherited from the first Revolution. England had therefore encouraged the Pope and the other Italian Princes on the path of Reform.

The Revolution which hurled Louis-Philippe from his throne in France (February 24, 1848) was received with no little exultation in Italy. On March 13, 1848, Vienna itself, the "faithful city," rose. To Milan and Venice came the announcement on March 17, 1848, of the Revolution in Vienna and the fall and flight of Metternich. In the face of imminent ruin, the Government of Lombardo-Venetia practically went to pieces. The Revolution of Milan began on the morning of March 18; and on the night of the 22nd Radetzky abandoned the city. There were five days of furious battle in the streets, in which numberless barricades were erected; against these were pitted from 18,000 to 20,000 troops. For Charles Albert the abstention or neutrality, counselled by England and France, was now impossible. The King, who was risking his all for Italy, alone had a force competent to fight against Austria. Austria, with her usual tenacity, though torn by intestine revolution, had sent a new army under Nugent, by way of the Carnic Alps, to the aid of Radetzky,

Radetzky hurried on and captured Vicenza, in spite of a vigorous defence, on June 10. On the 14th Treviso fell; on the 15th Padua, Rovigo a little later. Of all Venetia, Venice amid her lagoons alone remained free. Charles Albert found himself once more alone against Austria. Radetzky could by 22 July dispose of 80,000 men. On August 9, at Vigevano, an armistice was concluded, generally known as the Salasco armistice, from the name of the gallant soldier who had the ill-luck to sign it. Its conditions were most rigorous, restoring everything to the status quo ante bellum, with the exception of the city of Venice, which still maintained its resistance. After this disaster Charles Albert withdrew to Piedmont, and the whole situation throughout Italy was evidently changed.

The Austrians immediately marched on the Duchies; part of their forces, under Welden, entered the Papal States, advancing on Bologna. The defeat of King Charles Albert and the Salasco armistice closed the career of the Moderate Monarchist party. Henceforward the idea of a United Democratic Italy everywhere held the field.

After the Piedmontese defeats and the Salasco armistice, the Bourbon King deemed the moment ripe for resolute action in Sicily; and, late in August, he launched an array under General Carlo Filangieri against the rebellious island. Messina was captured amid horrors sufficient to awaken the conscience of Europe; from pure humanity, the French and British admirals in Sicilian waters intervened with proposals for a pacific solution. On September 11 the Bourbon, alarmed by this action, accepted the armistice; the only result was to encourage the Sicilians to further resistance and defiance.

The last scheme of settlement, known as the Ultimatum of Gaeta, dated February 26, 1849, was rejected like the rest by the Sicilian Parliament on March 24. For all their brave words, the Sicilians made no serious provision for the war; their troops were few, badly armed, and ill-disciplined, and commanded by adventurers, such as the Pole Mieroslawski. Having declared the armistice at an end, Filangieri captured Taormina on April 2, other towns surrendered without fighting, and he entered Palermo on May 15. Such was the evil end of the Sicilian Revolution, which had hampered instead of aiding the war of national independence, and had had no small share in bringing about the final disasters.

From these disasters Piedmont was labouring hard to recover, accepting the mediation of France and England. Austria suggested for a new basis of negotiation, the grant of Liberal institutions in Lombardo-Venetia, similar to those already granted in the rest of the Austrian empire. Vienna had again risen in insurrection on October 6, 1848, thus giving renewed vigour to the Revolution in Hungary, which had now been in progress for some months. Piedmont naturally thought this an excellent opportunity for repudiating the armistice and renewing the war. The military party had, as usual, the last word in Vienna; and the kindly Emperor Ferdinand, who appeared to be in the way, was forced to abdicate (December 2, 1848) in favor of the Emperor Francis Joseph, who had gained his first military and political experience in the Italian campaign.

The Anglo-French mediation having failed, the only issue from the impossible situation seemed to be to take the chances of war; and, on March 12, 1849 notice was given of the termination of the armistice. The Piedmontese army took the field under the Polish General Chrzanowsky; on March 23 they were defeated at Novara. Radetzky's triumph was complete, the only powerful army now opposed to Austria was decisively beaten, and the war was at an end for Piedmont. Charles Albert, after in vain seeking death on the battle-field, abdicated in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel II, thus removing any obstacle to peace that might attach to his own person. 'He then went into voluntary exile at Oporto in Portugal, where he died on July 28, 1849, a martyr to the cause of Italian independence.

On May 25, after overcoming a slight resistance at Leghorn, the Austrians entered Florence. Ten days of glorious struggle now took place at Brescia, the only one of the Lombard cities that had risen in support of Piedmont's desperate renewal of the war in March, 1849. The attempt was put down with extraordinary ferocity by the Austrian General Haynau, who earned the nickname of " General Hyena " ; and Brescia's struggle may be looked upon as the epilogue of Charles Albert's War of Italian Independence.

Venice did in fact resist to the last. On May 26,1849, the Austrians captured the fort of Malghera. From July 30 the city endured a ceaseless direct bombardment. On August 4 starvation and cholera stared them in the face. The cholera was making havoc in town and fleet; only a section of the city still remained uninjured by the ceaseless bombardment, and the rush of the population into that section was aggravating the epidemic. In a short time starvation cut short all discussion, and unconditional surrender became inevitable. On August 24 Manin resigned all power into the hands of the municipal authorities, who negotiated the surrender; and on August 27 he departed into exile.

With the fall of Venice all was at an end. The Pope and the Italian Princes were restored; France occupied Rome; the Austrians were dominant throughout the north ; on all sides reaction triumphed.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2014 19:01:58 ZULU