Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.
918
ITALIAN WARS


the emperor Francis Joseph assumed personal command, with Austrians Hess as his chief of staff. Gyulai had resigned the on the command of the II. Army to Count Schlick, a cavalry M, ,, c;0 general of 70 years of age. The I. Army was under Count Wimpffen. But this partition produced nothing but evil. The imperial headquarters still issued voluminous detailed orders for each corps, and the intervening army staff was a cause not of initiative or of simplification, but of unnecessary delay. The direction of several armies, in fact, is only feasible when general directions (directives as they are technically called) take the place of orders. All the necessary conditions for working such a system-uniformity of training, methods and doctrine in the recipients, abstention from interference in details by the supreme command-were wanting in the Austrian army of 1859. The I. Army' consisted of the III., IX. and XI. corps with one cavalry division and details, 67,000


in all; the II. Army of the I., V., VII. and VIII. corps, one cavalry division and details or 90,000 combatants-total 160,000, or practically the same force as the allies. The emperor had made several salutary changes in the administration, notably an order to the infantry to send their heavy equipment and parade full-dress into the fortresses, which enormously lightened the hitherto overburdened infantryman. At this moment the political omens were favourable, and gathering the impression from his outpost reports that the French were in two halves, separated by the river Chiese, the young emperor at last accepted Hess's advice to resume the offensive, in view of which Gyulai had left strong outposts west of the Mincio, when the main armies retired over that river, and had maintained and supplemented the available bridges.

The possibility of such a finale to the campaign had been considered but dismissed at the allied headquarters, where it was thought that if the Austrians took the offensive it would be on their own side, not the enemy's, of the Mincio and in the midst of the Quadrilateral. Thus the advance of the French army on the 24th was simply to be a general move to the line of the Mincio, preparatory to forcing the crossings, coupled with the destruction of the strong outpost bodies that had been left by the Austrians at Solferino, Guidizzolo, &c. The Austrians, who advanced over the Mincio on the 23rd, also thought that the decisive battle would take place on the third or fourth day of their advance. Thus, although both armies moved with all precautions as if a battle was the immediate object, neither expected a collision, and Solferino was consequently a pure encounter-battle. I

Speaking generally, the battlefield falls into two distinct halves, the hilly undulating country, of which the edge (almost everywhere cliff-like) is defined by Lonato, Castiglione, Cavriana and B “I f Volta, and the plain of Medole and Guidizzolo. The Sane" village of Solferino is within the elevated' ground, but 0 “hm” close to the edge. Almost in the centre of the plateau is Pozzolengo, and from Solferino and Pozzolengo roads lead to crossing places of the Mincio above Volta (Monzambano-Salionze and Valeggio). These routes were assigned to the Piedmontese (44,000) and the French left wing (l., II. and Guard, 57,000), the lain to the III. and IV. corps and 2 cavalry divisions (5o, oo0). On the other side the Austrians, trusting to the defensive facilities of the plateau, had directed the II. Army and part of the I. (86,000) into the plain, 2 corps of the I. Army (V. and I.) on Solferino-Cavriana (4o, o0o), and only the VIII. corps (Benedek), 25,000 strong, into the heart of the undulating ground. One division was sent from Mantua towards Marcaria. Thus both armies, though disposed in parallel lines, were grouped in very unequal density at different points in these lines. The French orders for the 24th were-'Sardinian army on Pozzolengo, I. corps Esenta to Solferino, II. Castiglione to Cavriana, IV. with two cavalry divisions, Carpenedolo to Cvuidizzolo, III. Mezzane to Medole by Castel Goffredo; Imperial Guard in reserve at Castiglione. On the other side the VIII. corps from Monzambano was to reach Lonato, the remainder of the II. Army from Cavriana, Solferino and Guidizzolo to Esenta and Castiglione, and the I. Army from Medole, Robecco and Castel Grimaldo towards Carpenedolo. At 8 A.M. the head of the French I. corps encountered several brigades of the I. Army in advance of Solferino. The lighting was severe, but the French made no progress. MacMahon advancing on Guidizzolo came upon a force of the Austrians at Casa Morino and (as on former occasions) immediately set about deploying his whole corps in line of battle. Meanwhile masses of Austrian infantry became visible on the edge of the heights near Cavriana and the firing in the hills grew in intensity. Marshal MacMahon therefore called upon General Niel on his right rear to hasten his march. The latter had alread expelled a small body of the Austrians from Medole and had moved] forward to Robecco, but there more Austrian masses were found, and Niel, like MacMahon, held his hand until Canrobert (III. corps) should come up on his right; But the latter, after seizing Castel Goffredo, judged it prudent to collect his corps there before actively intervening. Meantime, however, MacMahon had completed his preparations, and capturing Casa Morino with ease, he drove forward to a large open field called the Campo di Medole; this, aided by a heavy cross fire from his artillery and part of Niel's, he carried without great loss, Niel meantime attacking Casa Nuova and Robecco. But the Austrians had not yet developed their full strength, and the initial successes of the French, won against isolated brigades and battalions, were a mere prelude to the real struggle. Meanwhile the stern Baraguay d'Hilliers had made ceaseless attacks on the V. corps at Solferino, where, on a steep hill surmounted by a tower, the Austrian guns hred with great effect on the attacking masses. It was not until after midday, and then only because it attacked at the moment when, in accordance with an often fatal practice of those days, the Austrian V. corps was being relieved and replaced by the I., that Forey's division of the I. corps, assisted by part of the Imperial Guard, succeeded in reaching the hill, whereupon Baraguay stormed the village and cemetery of Solferino with the masses of infantry that had radually gathered opposite this point. By 2 P.M. Solferino was definitively lost to the Austrians.

During this time Macl/lahon had taken, as ordered, the direction of Cavriana, and was by degrees drawn into the fighting on the heights. Pending the arrival of Canrobert-who had been alarmed by the reported movement of .an Austrian force on his rear (the division from Mantua above mentioned) and having given up his cavalry to Niel was unable to explore for himself-Niel alone was left to face the I. Army. But Count Wimplfen, having been ordered at I I to change direction towards Castiglione, employed the morning in redistributing his intact troops in various “ mutually supporting positions, ” and thus the forces opposing Niel at Robecco never outnumbered him by more than 3 to 2. Niel, therefore, attacking again and again and from time to time supported by a brigade or a regiment sent by Canrobert, not only held his own but actually captured Robecco. About the same time MacMahon gained a foothold on the heights between Solferino and Cavriana, and as above mentioned, Baraguay had stormed Solferino and the tower hill. The greater part of the Il. Austrian Army was beaten and in retreat on Valeggio before 3 1>.M. But the Austrian emperor had not lost hope, and it was only a despairing message from Wimpffen, who had suffered least in the battle, that finally induced him to order the retreat over the Mincio. On the extreme right Benedek and the VIII. corps had fought successfully all day against the Sardinians, this engagement being often known by the separate name of the battle of San Martino. On the left Wimpffen, after sending his despondent message, plucked up heart afresh and, for a moment, took the offensive against Niel, who at last, supported

by the most part of Canrobert's corps, had reached Guidizzolo.