H. C. (Harold Carmichael) Wylly.

The campaign of Magenta and Solferino, 1859 online

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the bed of the river to raise itself above the original!
level. In 1859 the land was very. closely cultivated — I
vines, com and rice — and was intersected in every
direction by irrigation channels. The whole country!
was Hke one vast orchard, being planted closely witl^
young fruit trees, impeding the view in every direction^
Villages were numerous and each one had its cemeterj'
beside it — square enclosures with stone walls eight to
fifteen feet high, entered by an iron gate with a gratec .
opening on either side. The roads were of three classes —
strade reale or postale, strade provinciale, and strade
communale ; the first were excellent, the second good]
while the third were often mere tracks, quickly bei


coming impassable in bad weather or mider much traffic.
Most of the railways were only single lines."

In view of the support, moral and material, which
Napoleon had given or was pledged to afford Piedmont
in her quarrel with Austria, there can be no doubt
that the rapid passing of events preliminary to the
outbreak of hostihties, found the French army danger-
ously unprepared. It is true that on January 1, 1859,
the effective strength of the French forces amounted
to close upon 562,000 men, but of these some 163,000
were en conge renouvddble ; the artillery was deficient
of nearly 25,000 horses, which had to be purchased
between the beginning of the year and the commence-
ment of the war ; while this arm of the service was at
phis very time engaged in the process of re-armament
with a new rifled field-gun. The infantry was almost
jequaUy unprepared ; the issue of a new rifle had, it
is true, been just completed, but the arsenals contained
in January — ^barely four months before the Austrian
iiltimatimi reached Turin — only fourteen million rounds,
ivhich had been manufactured and stored as practice
ammunition for the annual course of musketry which
was to have begun in February. The stores contained
clothing, equipment and camp equipage for rather
^ ess than four hundred thousand men ; there was any
imotint of transport material in the parks at Vernon
and Chateauroux, but men, horses and mules were
wanting ; and as late even as the begLoning of April,
the reserve supphes of rations and forage were wholly
insufficient for the large force which might well be
expected to take the field within a few days.


By immense exertions and by means of a lavish
expenditure these deficiencies were in great measure
made good. By recalling men to the Colours, by
voluntary re-engagements, by calling in the men of
the 1857 class still remaining to be incorporated and
also the contingent for 1858, the total efEective strength
of the French Army was raised to a grand total of
639,000 men. By large purchases of remounts and
by the transfer to the artillery of 4,000 men from the
two other arms, the whole of the artillery of the four
first corps of the Army of Italy was completely organised
within twenty days ; sixty batteries were to have
been armed with the new rifled gim during the financial
year 1859, but events marched so rapidly that thd
execution of this intention had perforce to be abandoned!
• and France eventually took the field with only thirty-l
two batteries armed on the new system. Orders for
a hundred nulhon rounds of small arm ammunition!
were placed with different manufactories, while con-i
tracts for the soldiers' clothing, tentage and equipment
were given out, and were taken up and executed with
such dispatch that, on the actual outbreak of war^
almost everything necessary was ready for issue to thei
units under orders for Italy. The Transport Depart-
ment was greatly expanded in regard to 'personnel,
while later on, during the course of the campaign, an
auxiliary train of civihan employes with private wagons
was organized and proved of the greatest service. In
regard, too, to Commissariat suppHes, immense order^
for biscuit were placed in London and Liverpool, whil0
Colonel Saget, of the French General Staff, was fortu -
nately able to arrange with the Sardinian government


for seventeen days' rations for 100,000 men, with forage
for 10,000 animals, to be ready stored for the use of
the French troops at six different depots on Italian

Ever since the disastrous campaign of 1849 the mihtary
organization of the Kingdom of Sardinia and the
development of its warhke resources had been the chief
care of successive governments. The creation of the
new army had been the work of the last ten anxious
years; it 'had been entirely remodelled and had lost
that exclusive class-colouring which had formerly
distinguished it, and which had doubtless contributed
in some degree to its failure in the last struggle with
Austria. As the Piedmontese Army was to be the
nucleus round which soldiers from all parts of Italy
were to group themselves, it was felt that it could not
remain so exclusively aristocratic, but must be popular-
ised, and whatever was effected in this direction was
generally and justly attributed to General La Marmora.
By a patient process of years a cad/re was thus formed
on a sufficiently broad and expansive basis to include
the elements from the rest of the Peninsula in the event
of an Italian war of independence.

The Kingdom was divided into five military divisions —
Turin, Chambery (Savoy), Alessandria, Genoa and Cag-
liari (Sardinia) — and into two subdivisions — ^Novara and
Nice. The peace strength of the army was 49,000 men
with 80 guns, and it was capable of expansion to nearly
87,000 with 160 guns on the outbreak of war. This
force was distributed among 90 battaUons of infantry,
9 regiments of cavalry and 15 batteries, and was 'or-


ganised in one cavalry division and five infantry divisions,
each of two brigades, the whole being under the imme-
diate command of King Victor Emmanuel.

With the pubUcation of the Emperor Napoleon's
speech of January 1, great preparations for war were
at once put in hand by the Sardinian government ;
suppUes were hastUy thrown into the fortresses of
Casale and Alessandria ; fortified camps were prepared ;
the defences of Valen^a were strengthened ; large
purchases of animals and clothing were made ; and
60,000 rifles were ordered in France to replace the
smooth-bore muskets with which the Itahan infantry
was armed. The agitation began to spread all over
the Peninsula and especially in Upper and Central
Italy. " The Italian National Society," which had
been formed under Garibaldi, La Farina and PaUaviciho
to promote the Itahan movement, had succeeded in
establishing an understanding with aU the most in-
fluential men, and by their exertions thousands of youths
were enabled to come into Piedmont to enlist. In
the month of March alone close upon 6,000 volunteers
were enrolled by the commissioner specially appointed
for that purpose in Turin — ^half of these being from
Lombardy and the remainder from Central Italy, and
altogether it is computed that some 14,500 men were
voluntarily enlisted.

The Piedmontese were no match single-handed for
the large forces which Austria had abeady ranged — or
was in process of concentrating — ^upon their eastern
frontier. It was therefore necessary to take up som6
strong defensive position wherein they could await
the arrival of the French troops, which, on the declara-


tion of war, would at once begin to arrive in Piedmont,
either by Susa through and over the passes of the Alps
or by sea by way of Toulon and Genoa. General Niel,
aide-de-camp to the Emperor of the French, had been
sent early to Turin to concert measures of defence with
General La Marmora, and by them it was decided that
a position should be taken up on the right bank of the
Dora Baltea, between the village of Mazze and the Po,
as it was considered that the Austrians would be unlikely
to risk an advance on Turin from the east, but would
more probably move on the capital by VerceUi, threat-
ening at the same time the debouches of the French
columns from the Alps. The Italian forces were con-
sequently thus disposed :

One division covering the valley of the Scrivia and

One division occupying Alessandria.

One division occupying Casale, watching the hue
of the Po at Valenza and maintaining communication
between Casale and Alessandria ; this distribution
thus left only two infantry divisions, the cavaby and
Garibaldi's corps to oppose the passage of the Dora
. Baltea. It was hoped, however, that the march of
the Austrians from the Ticino- might be so delayed as
to extend over five or six days, by which time the
French Army — debouching rapidly from the passes
of the Alps and using the two available Hnes of railway —
might weU be able to place the best part of three divisions
in line with the Piedmontese.

The Austrian Army — having a peace strength of
334,000 and a strength on a war footing of 720,000— was


organised in four armies and twelve corps : at the end
of 1858 the Second Army — strength 44,837 men with
104 guns — under Count Gyulai, formed the normal gar-
rison of Northern Italy, with the Vth, Vllth and Vlllth
Corps, of which it was composed, occupying Milan,
Verona and Padua respectively. The infantry was
in process of re-armament with a new rifle, but only a
smaU number of these had been issued and many units
did not receive the new weapon' until actually on the
march to the theatre of war. Already in November,
1858, matters were beginning to assume so threatening
an aspect, that it was decided to raise the strength
of the Second Army to 76,000 men with 200 guns, and
further to arrange for the dispatch to Italy at short
notice of the Ilird Corps, but on a peace footing only,
taking steps, however, for increasing the number of
the effectives of these four corps to a total of 170,000
men at ten weeks' notice. G3ailai represented that
such a force was quite inadequate to guard against
all possible eventualities, and reminded thejWar Ministry
that similar half-measures in 1848 had obliged his pre-
decessor Radetzky temporarily to loosen his hold upon
Lombardy. These representations were, however, dis-
regarded, and the Ministry proceeded to carry out
the scheme already suggested. The Illrd Corps was
moved to Italy early in January, and on its arrival the
following was the dispositionof the four Austrian corps : —

The Vth Corps, with one brigade of the Illrd, between
the Ticino and the Adda ;

The Vllth Corps between the Mincio and the Adige ;

The Vlllth Corps in the Legations and in Venetia ;
while of the remaining brigades of the Illrd


Corps one was in Brescia, one in Bergamo, one
in Cremona and one in Lodi and Crema.^

On February 15 the Ilnd Corps followed the Ilird
to Italy and arrived in Milan on March 3.

It now appearing to be inevitable that Austria would,
in the event of war, have to deal both with France
and Piedmont, orders were issued on April 5 and 6 for
the five corps already in Italy to be at once brought
up t6 war strength, and on the 13th the IXth Corps also
left Vienna for the front.

Towards the latter end of April the five corps (Ilnd,
Ilird, Vth, Vllth and Vlllth), already standing ready
behind the Ticino, were made up as follows :

Army Corps.






Hnd . . .





nird . . .






Vth . . .






vnth . .






VlUth . .







1 Infantry
Division .





1 Cavalry
Division .






12 divisions. 26 brigades. 120 battalions. 51J squadrons.
416 guna.

There were also 46 battalions of occupation or garrison
troops, with a few guns and a small body of cavalry.

' At this period the Ilird Corps contained 5 brigades.


The total strength of the Austrian forces in the Peninsula
amounted to nearly 230,000 men, but from this total
some 70,000 must be deducted, required for the main-
tenance of order and for garrison duty in the Austrian
possessions in Italy, leaving barely 160,000 men available
to take the ofEensive beyond the frontier.

On April 25 the Imperial forces were thus distributed :
the Ilnd Corps between S. Angiolo and Lodi, the Illrd
Corps at Pavia, the Vth between Pavia and Milan,
the Vllth between Bereguardo and Abbiategrasso
on the Ticino, and the Vlllth at Piacenza. The two
brigades of the Cavalry Division were in Crema and
Manerbio, while of the Reserve Infantry Division, one
brigade was on its way to joui the Ilnd Corps and the
other two were in Brescia and Bologna. On April 27,
reports were received at Austrian Headquarters that
French ships had already arrived in Genoa, that the
disembarkation of men and material was proceeding
rapidly, and that French troops were marching to Italy
through Savoy. Gyulai had already arranged for the
violation of the frontier to commence on the 30th, but
on the morning of the 29th these orders were cancelled
and the passage of the Ticino was at once begim by the
Vllth and Vth Corps at Bereguardo, wMle the Ilird,
Vlllth and Ilnd, concentrating at Pavia, crossed the
river by the stone bridge at that town and by pontoons
which had previously been thrown across.

By night on the 30th practically the whole of Austria's
striking force had arrived upon hostile territory.




In the meantime the French had quietly, but with
dispatch; continued their preparations for placing their
army upon a war footing and for holding it in readiness
for an immediate advance.

A large number of the veteran troops quartered in
Africa were ordered to be transferred to France, their
places being taken by less experienced soldiers, and
eight divisions of infantry and one of cavalry were
standing ready by the middle of April, behind the Alps
or between Lyons and the sea, to advance into Italy
through the mountain passes or by sea to Genoa. By
April 21 the French Government had fully made up
its mind as to the hostile intentions of Austria, and on
that date orders were issued for the formation of four
army corps which, with the Imperial Guard, were to
be known as " the Army of the Alps " — a title almost
immediately altered to that of " the Army of Italy."
Of this army the Emperor Napoleon III himseK took
command, while the subordinate commands were filled
as follows : —

The Imperial Guard — General Regnaud de Saint Jean

d'Angely ;

17 e


Tte 1st Army Corps — ^Marshal Count Baraguey
d'HilUers ;

Tte Ilnd Army Corps — General de MacMahon ;

The Ilird Army Corps — Marshal Canrobert ; and the
IVth Corps — General Niel. The command of the artil-
lery was held by General le Boeuf, and that of the
engineers by General Frossard. The Ilird and IVth Corps
were directed to move into Italy by the Alps, while
the two divisions of the Imperial Guard and the 1st
and Ilnd Corps were ordered to Marseilles and Toulon
for embarkation for Genoa. The Ilnd Corps was very
largely composed of troops serving in Africa, whose
transfer to French soil had not yet been quite com-
pleted, and these were consequently ordered to proceed
direct to Genoa from Algerian ports.

Of the available cavalry one division was attached
to the 1st and another to the Ilird Corps, while to the
Ilnd and IVth a brigade each only was allotted.

On April 25 the following movements were initiated ;
the division Bouat of Canrobert's Corps was entrained
at Lyons, reached railhead at St. Jean de Maurienne,
and by the 28th had crossed the Mont Cenis and de-
bouched at Susa.'^ Bourbaki's Division of the same
corps was directed on Brian9on, and ordered to move
at once into Piedmont, and by the 28th Ducrot's Brigade
of that division had surmounted the Mont Genevre.
On the 25th the division Renault of the Ilird Corps
marched on Montmelian in the direction of Mont Cenis.
The IVth Corps followed close behind the Ilird and was
succeeded by the cavalry of both.

* Bouat died almost immediately of sunstroke and was sue-
peeded by Trochu.


The movements by sea were executed with equal
rapidity. Bazaine's Division of the 1st Corps was already
on the 29th beguming to disembark at Genoa ; the divi-
sions Ladmirault and Forey were put on board the
transports as fast as they reached Toulon and Marseilles,
as were also the troops of the Imperial Guard arriving
at these ports from Paris, while transports were working
between Genoa and the Algerian ports conveying the
matured soldiers of the Army of Africa. The cavalry
division of the Guard, having been trained from Paris
to Marseilles, followed thence by march route the
Corniche road to Genoa.

While these various movements were in course of
execution, the formation of a Vth Corps was under-
taken ; this was placed under the orders of Prince
Napoleon, and the two divisions of which it was com-
posed were commanded by Generals D'Autemarre and
Uhrich. The 1st Division was entirely made up of
troops from the African garrisons, while the 2nd was
formed of regiments from Paris.

In preparing for a campaign beyond the frontiers of
the Empire, it was imperative that the defence of the
country, whence so large a force was to be withdrawn,
should be neither neglected nor overlooked. To keep
order in the interior of France and to safeguard her
borders the following dispositions were made : Marshal
de Castellane was placed in command of three infantry
divisions — one at Besan9on and two — with a cavalry
division — at Lyons ; Marshal Magnan was at the head of
four divisions of infantry, of which two were in Paris,
one at Lille and one at Mezieres ; while Marshal Pelis-
sier, Duke de MalakofE, united under his command


four divisions of infantry and four of cavalry, wMch
were dispersed in Chalons, Metz, LuneviUe and Stras-

It must be admitted that if the near approach of war
found the armies of France in great measure unprepared
for a struggle with her ancient foe, extraordinarily
successful efforts had been made within the course of
a month to atone for the perilous condition of un-
readiness to which the country had been permitted to
relapse after the termination of the Crimean War. Ex-
perience has over and over again taught nations and
individuals that the neglected work of years cannot be
made good in a few feverish days when war is imminent ;
in many respects the French armies were anything but
thoroughly equipped for a stern campaign, but the fact
remains that in something like twenty-five days an army
of 100,000 men of all arms had been collected in France
and in Algeria and set down in Piedmont, ready, so far
as the casual observer could judge, for all the exigencies
of war.

It will be noticed that while the advance of the Aus-
trians on the 29th — ^when they crossed the frontier
between Lombardy and Piedmont — actually opened
the campaign, the first infringement of existing treaties
came from France, whose troops advanced into Savoy
on the 25th. Some days, however, before that date,
it was known that war was inevitable ; it is true that
Austria's ultimatum was not presented in Turin before
the 23rd, but to the parties most nearly concerned its
contents was well known as early as the 21st. The
result made itself felt ; before the memorandum was even
presented, the railway had carried French troops to the


Piedmontese frontier, while many thousand soldiers
were concentrated in Toulon and Marseilles. Ten
steamers of the Messageries were lying in the JoKette
Harbour ready to take troops on board ; a number of
old paddle-wheel ships converted into transports were
moored close by. Several Hne-of -battle ships and large
transports were already on their way to fetch the African
divisions, while other ships, chartered for the conveyance
of stores, were loading with the utmost expedition.
Thus, if in the ultimatum a time-hmit, not of three days
but of twenty-four hours, had been fixed, the French
divisions, having already had a day's start, would have
still been in Piedmont at the end of the shorter period.
By the 26th, when the time fixed by the ultimatum had
expired, the French had had full five days to prepare,
and before the Austrian envoy left Turin with Cavour's
reply, French troops already stood upon Italian soil.

At the moment of advance the French Army was
divided into two great wings with no prospect of reimion
or support until each had arrived in Piedmont. The
left wing, composed of the Ilird and IVth Corps, was
therefore placed temporarily under the command of
Marshal Canxobert, while the right wing — the 1st and
Ilnd Corps — was under the orders of Marshal Bara-
guey d'HiUiers. The two forts of Exiles and of Esseil-
lon command respectively the eastern exits of the passes
of Mont Genevre and Mont Cenis, and, by arrangement
with King Victor Emmanuel, these were handed over
to mixed garrisons of French and Itahan troops.

Having set in motion the troops of the left wing, which
was ordered to concentrate at Turin and thence to march
by divisions to the position on the Dora Baltea, Marsha]


Caniobert left Lyons on April 27, accompanied by General
Niel, the commander of the IVth Corps, reached Susa
on the night of the 28th and Turin the following day,
and moved out at once from here to the Dora Baltea
with King Victor Emmanuel and Generals Niel and
Frossard. Having carefuUy examined the ground,
the Marshal came to the conclusion that owing to its
extent, to the small numbers available for holding it,
and to the configuration of the ground itself, the position
was not specially favourable for defence. On the right
the position was good ; flanked by the River Po, there
lay beyond the Dora Baltea an open plain completely
dominated by the fire of guns placed on the right bank.
In the rear of the right the ground was very broken,
and covered with houses, trees and hedges, assisting
greatly in the defence ; a village caUed Verolengo was
itself strongly entrenched and could only be forced
with great difficulty, while this village, with that of Ter-
razza, stood out like two bastions connected by a
canal as by a curtain. The left at Mazze was on a hiU
commanding the ground to the front and too precipi-
tous for frontal assault. In ffont again the bed of the
Dora, enclosed between two high banks quite 2,000
yards apart, also assisted in the defence of the position
selected by the Sardinians ; while the railway, running
parallel to the course of the river, permitted of reinforce-
ments being brought up to any portion of the Kne which
might be threatened. Such were the considerations
which had influenced the Italians in the choice of the
position wherein to await the advance of the Austrians ;
but the following serious defects were pointed "out by
Marshal Canrobert.


The town of Rondissone formed the centre of the
position ; the high road from Turin to Milan ran through
it, and the ground in rear — flat and open — offered
no obstacle where an enemy might be detained or
defenders rallied. If the centre were forced the right
would be turned, the left compromised, and the second
line would be taken in reverse. Lastly the river, the
only obstacle covering Rondissone, here formed several
small channels almost everywhere f ordable at that season
of the year ; the banks also were thickly wooded and
precipitous. Then, too, although the left was strong,
it could easily be turned by the Austrians following the
high road, which crossed the river twelve miles north of

Such were the faults of the position, but it is possible
that none the less it would have been retained, had the
Ilird and IVth French Corps been able to join hands
with their aUies as early as had been anticipated. The
weather, however, had been deplorable, and the passage
of the Alps had been so greatly delayed, that, should the
Austrians only march rapidly on the Dora Baltea, there
seemed no prospect of reinforcing the defenders with
anything but very weak detachments of the French left
wing. These considerations led Marshal Canrobert to
ask that the position on the Dora be abandoned, and that
Turin should be defended at Alessandria and Casale,

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Online LibraryH. C. (Harold Carmichael) WyllyThe campaign of Magenta and Solferino, 1859 → online text (page 2 of 16)