RADETZKY, JOSEF, Count of Radetz (1766-1858), Austrian soldier, was born at Trzebnitz in Bohemia in 1766, to the nobility of which province his family, originally Hungarian, had for several centuries belonged. Orphaned at an early age, he was educated by his grandfather, and after the old count's death, at the Theresa academy at Vienna. The academy was. dissolved during his first year's residence, and he joined the army as a cadet in 1785. Next year he became an officer, and in 1787 a first lieutenant in a cuirassier regiment. He served as a galloper on Lacy's staff in the Turkish War, and in the Low Countries during the Revolutionary War. In 1795 he fought on the Rhine. Next year he served with Beaulieu against Napoleon in Italy, and inwardly rebelled at the indecisive “cordon” system of warfare which his first chief, Lacy, had instituted and other Austrian generals only too faithfully imitated. His personal courage was conspicuous; at Fleurus he had led a party of cavalry through the French lines to discover the fate of Charleroi, and at Valeggio on the Mincio, with a few hussars, he rescued Beaulieu from the midst of the enemy. Promoted major, he took part in Wurmser's Mantua campaign, which ended in the fall of the place. As lieutenant-colonel and colonel he displayed both bravery and skill in the battles of the Trebbia and Novi (1799), and at Marengo, as colonel on the staff of Melas, he was hit by five bullets, after endeavouring on the previous evening to bring about modifications in the plan suggested by the “scientific” Zach. In 1801 Radetzky received the knighthood of the Maria Theresa order. In 1805, on the march to Ulm, he received news of his promotion to major-general and his assignment to a command in Italy under the archduke Charles, and thus took part in the successful campaign of Caldiero. Peace again afforded him a short leisure, which he used in studying and teaching the art of war. In 1809, now a lieutenant field marshal, he fought at Wagram, and in 1810 he received the commandership of the Maria Theresa order and the colonelcy of the 5th Radetzky hussars. From 1809 to 1812, as chief of the general staff, he was active in the reorganization of the army and its tactical system, but, unable to carry out the reforms he desired owing to the opposition of the Treasury, he resigned the post. In 1813 he was Schwarzenberg's chief of staff, and as such had considerable influence on the councils of the Allied sovereigns and generals. Langenau, the quartermaster-general of the Grand Army, found him an indispensable assistant, and he had a considerable share in planning the Leipzig campaign and as a tactician won great praises in the battles of Brienne and Arcis sur Aube. He entered Paris with the allied sovereigns in March 1814, and returned with them to the congress of Vienna, where he appears to have acted as an intermediary between Metternich and the czar Alexander, when these great personages were not on speaking terms.
During the succeeding years of peace he disappeared from the public view. He resumed his functions as chief of the staff, but his ardent ideas for reforming the army came to nothing in the face of the general war-weariness and desire to “let well alone.” His zeal added to the number of his enemies, and in 1829, after he had been for twenty years a lieutenant field marshal, it was proposed to place him on the retired list. The emperor, unwilling to go so far as this, promoted him general of cavalry and shelved him by making him governor of a fortress. But very soon afterwards the Restoration settlement of Europe was shaken by fresh upheavals, and Radetzky was brought into the field of war again. He took part under Frimont in the campaign against the Papal States insurgents, and succeeded that general in the chief command of the Austrian army in Italy in 1834. In 1836 he became a field marshal. He was now seventy years of age, but he displayed the activity of youth in training and disciplining the army he commanded. But here too he was in advance of his time, and the government not only disregarded his suggestions and warnings but also refused the money that would have enabled the finest army it possessed to take the field at a moment's notice. Thus the events of 1848 in Italy, which gave the old field marshal his place in history among the great commanders, found him, in the beginning, not indeed unprepared but seriously handicapped in the struggle with Charles Albert's army and the insurgents. How by falling back to the Quadrilateral and there, checking one opponent after another, he was able to spin out time until reinforcements arrived, and how thenceforward up to the final triumph of Novara on the 23rd of March 1849, he and his army carried all before them, is described in the article Italian Wars. The well-disciplined sense of duty to the superior officer, which was remarked even in the brilliant and sanguine young army reformer of 1810, had become more intense in the long years of peace, and after keeping his army loyal in the midst of the confusion of 1848, he made no attempt to play the part of Wallenstein or even to assume Wellington's rôle of family adviser to the nation. While as a patriot he dreamed a little of a united Germany, he remained to the end simply the commander of one of the emperor's armies. He died, still in harness, though infirm, on the 5th of January 1858.
In military history Radetzky's fame rests upon one great achievement, but in the history of the Austrian army he lives as the frank and kindly “Vater Radetzky” whom the soldiers idolized. He was fortunate in the moment of his death. In the year following, another and a greater Italian war broke out, his beloved army, disintegrated by peace economies which the old field marshal had been unable any longer to redress by ceaseless personal training, and in addition suffering from divided command and confused staff work, was defeated in every encounter.