Italian Wars of Independence

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Depiction of Garibaldi's departure from Genoa at Quarto

The Italian Wars of Independence ( Italian Guerre d'indipendenza italiane ) are three successive war events that took place in the 19th century between the Italian states under the rule of Sardinia against the Empire of Austria . In 1860, the Second War of Independence , together with Garibaldi's March of a Thousand, led to the establishment of the Italian national state. The three wars were part of the Risorgimento and finally led to the complete unification of Italy in 1870 with the occupation of Rome.

First War of Independence (1848–1849)

March Revolution 1848

The political situation in Italy before the wars of independence
Proclamation of the Republic of Venice on March 23rd

In many countries of Europe , there were 1848 people's uprising against the restoration of absolutism . But in Italy and other countries ruled by the Austrian Empire , it was also about national self-determination . From his exile in London , Giuseppe Mazzini , the spiritual father of the unified Italian state, organized the Italian workers and agitated against Austrian rule in Italy.

During the March Revolution , a number of cities, including Milan and Venice , but also areas such as Cadore , tried to shake off Austrian rule. In Milan, the popular uprising (five days from March 18 to 22, 1848, hence the Italian name Cinque Giornate (di Milano) ) under Carlo Cattaneo assumed such serious proportions that the Austrian commander-in-chief, Count Radetzky, decided to evacuate the city. Cattaneo was elected to a four-member council of war in Milan on March 19. However, the differences between the radical democratic and the more moderate revolutionaries quickly came to light, the latter including Count Podesta Gabriele Casati , who was caught in a loyalty conflict and who had advocated military intervention by the House of Savoy.

The Austrian I. Corps ( Wratislaw ) evacuated Lombardy completely and went back to the fortress quadrangle Mantua - Peschiera del Garda - Verona - Legnago to await reinforcements there. Thanks to this strategically very important fortress square, the Austrians were initially able to assert themselves on the Mincio, continue to control all of northern Italy and at the same time secure the connections to the north running through the Adige Valley .

On March 22, 1848, Austrian rule was shaken off in Venice and an independent Republic of Venice was proclaimed the following day . The Austrian military governor Count Zichy surrendered and withdrew with his troops. Daniele Manin was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Neapolitan general Guglielmo Pepe took over the military leadership, but his troops remained neutral in the war between Austria and Sardinia-Piedmont.

On February 15, 1848, Grand Duke Leopold II had to enact a liberal constitution before the national forces in Tuscany came under pressure . His measures were not enough for the radical forces of the population because they wanted to completely eliminate Austrian rule.

Intervention of Sardinia-Piedmont

The independent Kingdom of Sardinia was then asked from many sides in Italy to take the lead in the unification movement and to use the moment to shake off Austrian rule in northern Italy. On March 23, 1848, King Karl Albert of Sardinia declared war on the imperial state of Austria. The Sardinian army joined 7,000 men from Tuscany to 17,000 soldiers from the Papal States provided further 16,000 soldiers from the Kingdom of the Two Sicily . These additional forces reached the theater of war with some delay, which is why the main Sardinian army under Karl Albert with around 75,000 men took action against the Austrian army alone.

The Austrian fortress square on the Mincio and the Adige, the main battlefield from 1848

The troops of Sardinia attacked for the first time on April 8th near Goito the western flank of the Austrian fortress square bordered by the river Mincio . In the meantime, the Austrian II Corps under FML d'Aspre had reached the fortress line Verona - Mantua via Padua and strengthened Radetzky's main army to 50,000 men. Further reinforcements were on the march under the commanding general in Graz, FZM Nugent from Inner Austria . The approach through the Isonzo Valley was postponed by the papal army marching into Vicenza under General Durando .

Immediately after taking the river crossing at Goito on April 8, the Sardinian army won two more battles near Valeggio and Monzambano further north, also on the Mincio . On April 13, the siege of the fortress of Peschiera del Garda began on the northern section . The Sardinian 2nd Corps under General de Sonnaz penetrated the fortress square and achieved a first major success on April 30 at Pastrengo . On April 19th the Piedmontese undertook a first attack on the forts of Mantua, which remained fruitless, on the 21st Lieutenant General d'Arco Ferrari closed the fortress. Due to repeated failures of the fortress leader FML Gorzkowski , however, a close separation was prevented and the connection with Verona and Legnago was maintained.

On May 6, Karl Albert advanced with 45,000 men against the western Austrian Ride exhibition in front of Verona. However, his strong attack against Crocebianca and San Massimo was repulsed by Radetzky at the Battle of Santa Lucia . At the beginning of May, Nugent's reinforcements had evaded the papal troops in front of Conegliano and marched across the Adige to Lake Garda. On May 14, FML Heinrich von Hess , who came from Vienna, took over the position of Chief of the General Staff at Radetzky's headquarters in Verona. In nearby Curtatone and Montanara, the Austrians encountered bitter resistance from 5,000 students and lecturers from the universities of Pisa and Siena on May 29th . This gave Karl Albert the time to prepare for Radetzky's southern encircling attack against the Sardinian army corps located near Goito . On May 30, the Piedmontese under Lieutenant General Eusebio Bava were able to repel Radetzky's units in the Battle of Goito . As a result of the victory, the Austrian occupation of Peschiera also capitulated. King Charles Albert I of Sardinia was spontaneously declared "King of Italy". Radetzky withdrew behind the protection of the Verona fortress with around 40,000 men.

The turn

Shortly afterwards, the fortunes of war turned completely. In France and Austria the conservatives regained the upper hand against the revolutionary forces. Radetzky was primarily concerned with removing the impending danger in his hinterland and opening up the connecting routes through Veneto to the Isonzo. On June 9, the bulk of the imperial army marched under FML d'Aspre to Vicenza , brought the papal troops under Durando to surrender there on June 10 and had returned to Verona by June 11. Karl Albert hadn't noticed the brief daring withdrawal of the Austrians, and the way was now free for further reserves. The Pope in Rome saw his position, which was also threatened by the revolution, improved by the support of France and ordered the withdrawal of his troops. Even King Ferdinand II of the two Sicilies, threatened by internal revolts, ordered his troops back from northern Italy. The indecisive Karl Albert then let a month and a half pass, almost without doing anything.

In mid-July, Karl Albert tried another attack on the Mantua fortress with some formations , where he succeeded at Governolo , which, however, spread his army further apart and strategically placed it in an unfavorable position. On July 23, the Sardinian north wing gave its positions in front of Rivoli opposite the newly established Austrian III. Corps under FML Graf von Thurn-Valsassina and went back to Peschiera.

The expansion of the enemy front took advantage of Radetzky, who attacked the Piedmontese on July 23rd and 24th at Sona and Sommacampagna and finally achieved the decisive victory on July 25th, 1848 in the battle of Custozza . On July 26th and 27th, the Sardinian north wing, which had also fallen back over the Mincio, began under General de Sonnaz between Cavriana and Volta with unsuccessful counter-attacks. Karl Albert had to go back over the Oglio , on July 29th his army reached Cremona on August 2nd Lodi . Meanwhile, in his own territory, in Genoa, revolts against his rule broke out. On August 6th, the Austrian II Corps entered the evacuated Milan without a fight. General Hess concluded an armistice with the Sardinian General Salasco on August 8, 1848 , after which the Piedmontese troops had to withdraw behind the Ticino and through which Austria could restore its rule in northern Italy.

Further development in 1849

Field Marshal Radetzky on March 23, 1849 near Novara
Meeting Viktor Emanuel II. With Radetzky at the armistice of Vignale

But uprisings broke out again both in Hungary and in Austria itself, for which Emperor Ferdinand I had to abdicate in December 1848 in favor of his nephew Franz Joseph I (the all-powerful Minister Metternich had fled to England in the spring ). As a result, Karl Albert of Savoy made another attempt in March 1849 to push Austria out of northern Italy. After he no longer trusted his own generals, his choice fell, also for political reasons, on the Polish General Chrzanowski , who was entrusted with the supreme command of 97,500 Sardinians. Although the able chief of staff Alessandro La Marmora was put at his side, Chrzanowski, who spoke no Italian, was a serious mistake. Karl Albert's old adversary Field Marshal Radetzky was able to oppose him with over 73,400 men and went on the offensive himself. On March 20, the Austrians had crossed the Ticino and were advancing towards the enemy in Vigevano . After the Piedmontese had achieved a minor success at Sforzesca , Radetzky won the Battle of Mortara on March 21 . On March 23, 1849, Radetzky's 45,000 men faced around 54,000 Sardinians in the decisive battle of Novara and won the campaign. The humiliated Karl Albert abdicated in favor of his son Viktor Emanuel II , who had to agree to the armistice of Vignale on March 24th and personally sign it on March 26th.

It had become clear that the small kingdom of Sardinia could not force the Danube monarchy to withdraw militarily without extensive preparations and, above all, without a large ally. But that didn't stop others from continuing to fight for Italian independence. On March 23, 1849, the day the Sardinian army was defeated at the Battle of Novara, a ten-day popular uprising began in the Lombard city of Brescia , in which the Austrian commander, General Johann Graf von Nugent , was killed. The Austrians only succeeded in breaking the resistance on April 1st with the arrival of a complete army corps under Haynau's orders .

States in Venice, Tuscany and Sicily

In Venice they tried to conquer Mestre from Porto Marghera on October 27, 1848 , 2300 men defeated an Austrian unit under Major General Mitis and brought the place into their power. The Austrians could not begin the concentrated attack to regain Venice until May 4, 1849. Fort Marghera was besieged and finally captured from May 4th to May 26th. On May 17th General Haynau was recalled to the war theater in Hungary and Count von Thurn took over the demolition of the lagoon city. The bombardment of the city began on July 29th, and hot air balloons with incendiary bombs were also used from the Austrian side (the first air raid in world history). The Venetians did not surrender until August 24, 1849, after the Austrian siege on land and sea had led to famine and epidemics.

Grand Duke Leopold II of Toscana had to leave his country in February 1849. A provisional republican government was established in Florence, which briefly allied itself with the revolutionary Roman Republic , which existed in the Papal States for about five months .

In Sicily, Ruggiero Settimo led the popular uprising against the Bourbons in Naples in Palermo since the March Revolution in 1848 and headed an independent revolutionary government for 16 months. King Ferdinand II also ordered the reconquest of the fallen Sicily at the end of August 1848. General Filangieri crossed over at Reggio with about 14,000 men on September 1 and, after four days of bombardment, was able to force Messina to surrender by September 8. In Palermo , the Sicilian separatists elected Ruggiero Settimo as head of state and instructed the Polish general Ludwik Mieroslawski to defend independence. After the resumption of war in the spring of 1849, the Neapolitan Navy faked a landing on the coast of Cefalù , but operated with the main forces towards the south. Filangieri's troops triumphed at Taormina , took Catania on April 7, and shortly afterwards Syracuse and Noto . The demoralized Sicilians went back to Palermo, where Filangieri's troops followed them and also forced this city to surrender by May 15, 1849.

The uprising in Rome

Pius IX

There was also an uprising in Rome . After the assassination of the papal Interior, Police and Finance Minister Pellegrino Rossi by revolutionary rebels on November 15, 1848, Pope Pius IX saw himself . on 23/24 November forced to flee Rome and fled to Gaeta . On February 9, 1849, Giuseppe Mazzini proclaimed the Roman Republic , which received one of the most progressive constitutions of its time. From his Neapolitan exile , the Pope endeavored to restore his secular rule. Papal diplomacy finally succeeded when Louis Napoléon , president of the French republic, revived in 1848, decided to intervene militarily. Under the command of General Oudinot , French troops landed in the papal naval port of Civitavecchia and marched on Rome, which was defended by volunteers under Giuseppe Garibaldi . The French attacked from the west and met Garibaldi on the Gianicolo , a ridge south of St. Peter's Basilica . From there a bitter house-to-house fighting developed in the city, which was to last the whole month of June 1849. The Porta San Pancrazio and the Villa Doria Pamphili were particularly fought over. Many famous figures of the Italian freedom movement fell here. In view of the hopeless situation, the Roman Republic finally capitulated on July 2, 1849. Garibaldi was able to break out of Rome with a number of volunteers, but then disbanded his small army in the Republic of San Marino . While trying to reach Venice, which was still fighting, his wife died. He himself only narrowly escaped his Austrian persecutors and finally fled to America.

Second War of Independence (1859)

Giuseppe Garibaldi

After the experiences of the revolutions and struggles of 1848 and 1849, a phase of reforms and political and military preparations for a renewed attempt at unification was initiated in the Kingdom of Sardinia . This policy was largely shaped by the new Prime Minister Camillo Benso von Cavour . By participating in the Crimean War , he succeeded in getting the Italian question on the political agenda of the governments of France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland , which he regarded as indispensable as an ally in the fight against the then European great power Austria . In 1858 he concluded with Napoléon III. in Plombières-les-Bains signed a secret treaty which provided for the support of France in the event of an Austrian attack. In return, the Kingdom of Sardinia was to cede its home country Savoy and the county of Nice to France. In consultation with the French government, Cavour succeeded in provoking Austria to attack Piedmont in the spring of 1859. This legitimized the French participation in the Sardinian war .

In March 1859, the Italian freedom leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, who returned to Italy in 1854, marched with 3,000 Alpine hunters on the southern border of Lombardy. On May 26th he was able to throw back an Austrian brigade near Varese . His inexperienced volunteers were surprisingly attacked and dispersed on June 15 near Treponti by an Austrian brigade under FML Urban . The French army was about 170,000 strong and was led by Emperor Napoleon III. even led to Italy. The allied army of Sardinia comprised 65,000 soldiers and was led by the Chief of Staff Alfonso La Marmora . On May 29th, the armies of Sardinia and France opened their attacks. After the battles of Montebello (May 21), San Fermo (May 26-27), Palestro and Vinzaglio (May 30), the allies' way to Milan was clear. The battles of Magenta (June 4th), Melegnano (June 8th) and the decisive victory at San Martino and Solferino on June 24th ended the Austrian rule in Lombardy .

France subsequently withdrew for political reasons, which is why Austria continued to retain Veneto , Trentino and Julisch Venetia , which seven years later would trigger the third Italian War of Independence. After the preliminary peace of Villafranca , the Peace of Zurich ended the Sardinian War on November 10, 1859.

Despite the urging of national forces, Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany did not go to war against Austria because of his family ties to the House of Habsburg-Lothringen . A revolution then broke out in Florence, as a result of which the grand ducal family had to flee to Bologna and from there went into exile in Vienna. On July 21, 1859 he abdicated in favor of his son, Grand Duke Ferdinand IV of Tuscany , but could not prevent Tuscany from being annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia in the course of the unification of Italy after the clear result of a referendum in 1860. This ended the rule of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine-Tuscany .

End of the Kingdom of Naples

Garibaldi was now also preparing the end of Bourbon rule in southern Italy. On May 5, 1860, the Train of Thousands sailed south from Genoa to conquer the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples . On May 11, Garibaldi landed near Marsala , on the western tip of Sicily. In the Battle of Calatafimi on May 15, 1860, his red shirts defeated the troops of the three times superior Neapolitan general Landi. An outbreak of popular uprising in Palermo favored his rapid advance on Messina . After the meeting at Milazzo on July 20, all of Sicily was under his control. The Neapolitan general Filangieri tried to pull 40,000 soldiers together in a bridgehead near Messina against the invaders, but the weak King Francis II could not bring himself to vigorous operations due to the unreliability of his troops. Garibaldi's entry into Naples without a fight took place on September 7th. After his victory in the great battle of Volturno on October 1, 1860 , the end of the Kingdom of Naples was sealed.

The handshake on the bridge at Teano on October 26, 1860

Garibaldi's successes jeopardized the leadership role of Sardinia-Piedmont in the unification of Italy. The liberal-conservative circles around Count Camillo Cavour feared a Neapolitan republic and, similar to the suppression of the Roman Republic in 1849, new foreign interventions if Garibaldi should penetrate as far as Rome. Savoy agreed with Napoléon III. his approval of the conquest of the Papal States and Umbria in order to forestall Garibaldi. On October 26, 1860, the legendary meeting between Victor Emanuel II and Garibaldi took place on Teano near Naples, at which the latter welcomed and recognized the Piedmontese monarch as "King of Italy". On September 18, 1860, the Piedmontese troops crushed by General Enrico Cialdini at Castelfidardo (Ancona) the papal troops of Generals De Pimodan and Lamoricière and occupied the Papal States . Rome and its surroundings remained untouched for political reasons. Upon further march of the Sardinians to southern Italy they made it clear that Garibaldi with its volunteer corps of the government in Turin child. King Franz, who fled Naples, found refuge in the fortress of Gaeta , which General Schumacher was defending. Eventually Gaeta was also shot at and bombed by the Sardinians. Hunger and epidemics in the castle made defense difficult, so that the handover took place in February 1861.

Francis II signed the surrender to General Cialdini on February 13, 1861 and went into exile; the citadel of Messina, still in Sicily, was handed over on the same day.

Proclamation of the Kingdom

The war against Austria, which Cavour initiated very skilfully politically, and Garibaldi's movement, which was also effectively intercepted, made the unification of Italy under the rule of the House of Savoy possible . On February 18, 1861, Cavour opened the first united parliament in Turin, which Victor Emanuel proclaimed the first King of Italy on March 17 of that year . The previous Sardinian-Piedmontese capital Turin was the provisional seat of government . Rome was viewed by the nationalists as the natural capital of Italy and therefore remained Garibaldi's destination. On August 29, 1862, his troops were repulsed in the battle of Aspromonte by papal troops under Pallavicini , Garibaldi was seriously wounded and had to retire to his domicile on the island of Caprera .

Third War of Independence (1866)

General Alfonso La Marmora

The Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck tried to push Austria out of the German Confederation . He was able to win Italy, which was on friendly terms with France, for his plans. An offer by Austria to voluntarily cede Veneto, submitted under pressure from France, came too late. In the Third Italian War of Independence in 1866, a new Italian attempt to conquer Veneto ended with a military defeat against Austria, but ultimately with the desired territorial success.

As early as April 8, 1866, Bismarck and the Italian representative, General Govone , concluded a secret attack alliance against Austria that was limited to three months . Austria in turn acted on June 12th in a secret treaty with Napoleon III. French neutrality. For this France, in case of an Austrian victory, would get Veneto.

Garibaldi during the Battle of Bezzecca, July 21, 1866

Italy mobilized its troops and declared war on Austria on June 20, 1866. On June 24th, Archduke Albrecht of Austria defeated 74,000 men of the 84,000 strong Italian Mincio Army under the Piedmontese commander in chief General Alfonso La Marmora in the Second Battle of Custozza . Austria lost 4,650 men, 1,200 of them dead, the Italians had casualties of over 8,000 soldiers, but only 600 dead. The Italians did not fight in a concentrated manner in this campaign and, after the first failure, refrained from a possible counterattack. The 2nd Army under General Cialdini, which had not been in combat, had crossed the Po at the mouth of the Panaro on the news of the defeat of La Marmora and marched helpfully towards the defeated main army on the right bank of the river, a second armed conflict would have been possible.

For similar reasons, the Italian Navy under Admiral Carlo Persano also lost the subsequent naval battle of Lissa against the Austrians under Tegetthoff on July 20 . The Austrian fleet won this naval battle because the decisive orders were given without delay, the battle plan was excellently worked out and the teams were well trained. The only Italian success in the war of 1866 was achieved by the troops under Garibaldi on July 21 in Bezzecca, northwest of Lake Garda , against the Austrians under General Kuhn .

After Prussia, which was allied with Italy, had won the Battle of Königgrätz on July 3, 1866 , Austria had to cede Veneto to France (which played a mediating role - albeit not necessarily neutral, but rather sympathizing with Italy - despite its military successes in the south) . The separation of the Lombardy-Venetian kingdom from the Austrian monarchy was agreed in the preliminary peace of Nikolsburg on July 26, 1866 and became binding with the Peace of Prague on August 23, 1866. France passed these territories on to the Kingdom of Italy. Italian troops were able to invade Veneto without a fight. In the Peace of Vienna between Italy and Austria on October 3, 1866, Veneto was confirmed as Italian property.

End of the Wars of Independence (1870)

In September 1870, Bersaglieri conquered Rome, completing the unification of Italy

Garibaldi's units were repulsed on November 3, 1867 in a renewed attempt to occupy Rome by troops of the Pope under General Hermann Kanzler and French auxiliaries under General Balthazar de Polhès near Mentana .

The Italian Wars of Independence ended in September 1870 with the conquest of Rome (September 20th, Breccia di Porta Pia ) by troops under General Raffaele Cadorna . Because of the Franco-Prussian War , France was unable to protect the Pope as agreed. The papal state had ceased to exist, and the Pope no longer had its own territory. He considered himself - while nominally safeguarding his rights - as a "prisoner in the Vatican". Italy respected the Vatican City as quasi extraterritorial, but the legal status remained formally unclear. The conflict between the Church and the State of Italy ( Roman question ) therefore persisted and was only finally resolved in 1929 by the Lateran Treaties .

From the point of view of the later Italian irredentism , the Italian Wars of Independence did not end until the First World War , since until 1918 the areas around Trieste and Trento with a partially Italian-speaking population did not belong to Italy.


  • Denis Mack Smith: Modern Italy. A political history. New Haven / London 1997.
  • Konrad Sturmhoefel : Illustrated history of the latest time. Volume IX and X. Otto Spamer Verlag, Leipzig 1897.

Individual evidence

  1. Konrad Sturmhoefel: Illustrated History of modern times. Otto Spamer Verlag, 1897, pp. 723-740.
  2. Konrad Sturmhoefel: Illustrated History of modern times. Otto Spamer Verlag, 1897, pp. 740-744.
  3. ^ Hermann Reuchlin: History of Italy. Volume 2, Verlag S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1860, pp. 320-330.