Sunday, 18 April 2010


officer  piedmont
hungarian cavalry
In the spring of 1848, a date might be found when every Italian ruler except the Duke of Modena wore the appearance of a friend to freedom and independence. In the spring of 1849 no Italian prince preserved that appearance except the King of Sardinia. Many causes contributed to the elimination, but most of all the logic of events. It was a case of the survival of the fittest. What seemed a calamity was a step in advance.Early in March, the Marquis Pallavicini, prisoner of Spielberg, had a long interview with Charles Albert. They sat face to face talking over Italian matters, and the King said confidently that the army was now flourishing; if the die were cast anew, they would win.
 At parting he embraced the Lombard patriot with the words: 'Dear Pallavicini, how glad I am to have seen you again! You and I had always the same thought; the independence of Italy was the first dream of my youth; it is my dream still, it will be till I die.
'The terrible scene at the Palazzo Greppi, the charge of treason, the shouts of 'death,' had left only one trace on Charles Albert's mind: the burning desire to deliver his accusers

Piedmont Officer Kepi
The armistice was denounced on the 12th of March, a truce of eight days being allowed before the recommencement of hostilities. There is such a thing in politics as necessary madness, and it may be doubted if the Sardinian war of 1849 was not this thing. The programme of fare da sè had now to be carried out in stern earnest. Sardinia stood alone, neither from south of the Apennines nor from north of the Alps could help be hoped for. France, which was meditating quite another sort of intervention, refused the loan even of a general. 'They were not going to offend Austria to please Piedmont,' said the French Cabinet. Worse than this, the army was not in the flourishing state of which the King had spoken. The miseries of the retreat, but infinitely more, the incidents of Milan, though wiped out by the King from his own memory, were vividly recollected by all ranks.

light cavalry of Lombardy
Affection was not the feeling with which the Piedmontese soldiers regarded the 'fratelli Lombardi.' Did anyone beside the King believe that this army, which had lost faith in its cause, in its leaders and in itself, was going to beat Radetsky? The old Field-Marshal might well show the wildest joy when the denunciation of the armistice was communicated to him. And yet the higher expediency demanded that the sacrifice of Piedmont and of her King for Italy should be consummatedRattazzi announced the coming campaign to the Chambers on the 14th of March; the news was well received; there was a general feeling that, whatever happened, the present situation could not be prolonged. With regard to the numbers they could put in the field, Austria and  Sardinia were evenly balanced, each having about 80,000 disposable men.

slovene cavalry in the service of austria
 The request for a French marshal having been refused, the chief command was given to Chrzanowski, a Pole, who did not know Italian, had not studied the theatre of the war, and was so little favoured by nature that, to the impressionable Italians, his appearance seemed ludicrous.

Italian dragoons lombardy
hungarian hussars
 This deplorable appointment was made to satisfy the outcry against Piedmontese generalship; as if it was not enough, the other Polish general, Ramorino, accused of treachery by the revolutionists in 1832, but now praised to the skies by the democratic party, was placed in command of the fifth or Lombard divisionThough Radetsky openly gave the word 'To Turin!'
Chrzanowski seems to have failed to realise that the Austrians intended to invade Piedmont. He ordered Ramorino, however, with his 8000 Lombards, to occupy the fork formed by the Po and the Ticino, so as to defend the bridge at Pavia, (the napoleonic bridge at Lodi, near to Pavia)if, by chance, any fraction of the enemy tried to cross it. What Ramorino did was to place his division on the right bank of the Po, and to destroy the bridge of boats at Mezzana Corte between himself and the enemy.
Sardinian guards
The Austrians crossed the Ticino in the night of the 20th of April, not with a fraction, but with a complete army. Ramorino was deprived of his command, and was afterwards tried by court-martial and shot. Whether his treason was intentional or involuntary, it is certain that, had he stemmed the Austrian advance even for half a day, the future disasters, if not averted, would not have come so rapidly, because the Piedmontese would have been forewarned.

Sardinian dragoons
On the evening of the 21st, General D'Aspre, with 15,000 men, took a portion of the Sardinian army unawares near Mortara, and, owing to the scattered distribution of the Piedmontese, who would have  outnumbered him had they been concentrated, he succeeded in forcing his way into Mortara by nightfall. The moral effect of this first reverse was bad, but Chrzanowski rashly decided staking the whole fate of the campaign in a field-day, for which purpose he gathered what troops he could collect at La Biccocca, a hill capped with a village about a mile and a half from Novara. Not more than 50,000 men were collected; some had already deserted, and 20,000 were doing nothing on the other side of the Po.
The Battle of Novara or Battle of Bicocca (Bicocca is a borough of Novara) was a house to house affair. Lasting the whole day of 22 March 1849 and ending at dawn on 23 March, it resulted in a severe defeat and retreat for the Piedmontese (Sardinian) army, the final action of  a dying protagonist of the first Italian war of independence in what was the first significant attempt to reach a genuine national unity after more than 1400 years of foreign rule and territorial divisions .This struggle had formed so called pre-risorgimental States and they died at Novara.

house in novara where the armistice was signed after the battle
Towards eleven o'clock D'Aspre arrived, and lost no time in beginning the attack. He sent post-haste to Radetsky, Appel and Thurn to bring all the reinforcements in their power as fast as possible. D'Aspre's daring was rewarded by his carrying La Biccocca at about mid-day, but the Duke of Genoa retook the position with the aid of the valorous 'Piemonte' brigade, and by two p.m. D'Aspre's brave soldiers were so thoroughly beaten, that nothing could have saved his division from destruction, as he afterwards admitted, had Chrzanowski joined in the pursuit instead of staying behind with more than half the army, in accordance with a preconceived plan of remaining on the defensive.Bersaglieri
At two o'clock on the 23rd of March, the news started on the wings of the wind, and, as great news will do, swiftly reached every part of the waiting country, that the Sardinians were getting the best of it, that the cause was saved. Men who are not very old remember this as the first strong sensation of their lives—this, and its sequel

Appel and Thurn, and Wratislaw and the old Field-Marshal were on the march, and by four o'clock they were pouring their fresh troops upon the Piedmontese, who had not known how to profit by their success.54mm
 Heroism such as few battlefields have seen, disorder such as has rarely disgraced a beaten army, were displayed side by side in Charles Albert's ranks. At eight in the evening, the whole Sardinian army retired into Novara; the Austrians bivouacked on La Biccocca. The Sardinians had lost 4000 in dead and wounded; the losses of the victors were a thousand less.All the day long the King courted death, pressing forward where the balls fell like hail and the confusion was at its height, with the answer of despair to the devoted officers who sought to hold him back: 'Let me die, this is my last day.' But death shuns the seeker. Men fell close beside him, but no charitable ball struck his breast. In the evening he said to his generals: 'We have still 40,000 men, cannot we fall back on Alessandria and still make an honourable stand?' They told him that it could not be done. Radetsky was asked on what terms he would grant an armistice; he replied: 'The occupation of a large district in Piedmont, and the heir to the throne as a hostage.' Then Charles Albert knew what he must do. 'For eighteen years,' he said, 'I have made every effort for the good of the people; I grieve to see that my hopes have failed, not so much for myself as for the country. I have not found death on the field of battle as I ardently desired; perhaps my person is the only obstacle to obtaining juster terms. I abdicate the crown in favour of my son, Victor Emmanuel.' And turning to the Duke of Savoy he said: 'There is your King

In the night he left Novara alone for Nice. As he passed through the Austrian lines, the sentinels were nearly firing upon his carriage; General Thurn, before whom he was brought, asked for some proof that  he was in fact the 'Count de Barge' in whose name his passport was made out. A Bersagliere prisoner who recognised the King, at a sign from him gave the required testimony, and he was allowed to pass. At Nice he was received by the governor, a son of Santorre di Santa Rosa, and to him he addressed the last words spoken by him on Italian ground: 'In whatever time, in whatever place, a regular government raises the flag of war with Austria, the Austrians will find me among their enemies as a simple soldier.' Then he continued his journey to Oporto.jagers
 At Novara a story is to be found  and it is much  more noticeable when you travel sites that featured in those times and  have left traces of their passage: country roads, old farmhouses, mostly ruined and shadows of a past that it is hard to track down in today's landscape. Looking around in the fields of the valley of Arbogna (a small depression that is wedged in land south of the city), everything seems to push the imagination to hear anew the noises of the battle, the positions of the horses, the infantry fire and the traces  fixed on the old walls of brick, the same  in that unfortunate day of March.
  Follow in the footsteps of soldiers, cavalry and guns, those that  advanced to perish in their thousands,  young men, Piedmont and Bohemian, Sardinians and Tyrolean, Czechs, Hungarians who came to die in this flat land of rice paddies  in the rainy days of March.
The peasants and those that lived in the area were the eyes and the mute
 dumb viewers of a tragedy that took place under their eyes, their homes and in their fields.
plastic Italian made cavalry of 1848-60 Xiloplasto

If you go to Novara you can follow the exact run of the battle as the council have put up path guides. They trace the itinerary of battle unfolding in the  south of the city, between the houses of Bicocca, those of Torrion  and along the Valley of Arbogna. It is the land route of the Austrian Imperial Army coming from Pavia and Mortara that here met Piedmont battalions in defence of the town.   The farmhouses , one after another, became cornerstones to conquer and defend in a succession of assaults and retreats, places where in a few hours you could take prisoners and be taken prisoner. A memorable battle that saw  Italian hopes of victory almost reached and finally the bitterness of defeat , disastrous and humiliating.

N.1 on the path laid out with sign posts by the council is the Church of s. Maria della Bicocca. On 23 March 1849 it  was the center of strategic positions in Piedmont. lots of fighting and a  lot of wound

No. 2-Shrine Ossuary of the fallen at Bicocca. Built in 1878-79, contains the remains, without distinction, many Austrians both armies whose names are engraved on guns sited inside.
the bone house

3-Cascina Zaffarona or Portofranco (Bicocca). From its southern flank were positioned cannons of 7th battery from battle of Piedmont. (see text)

No. 4-Villa s. Giuseppe (Bicocca) buildings used by the headquarters of King Carlo Alberto, who ran the risk of being taken prisoner.
guns simon rivollet

Austrian Rocket troopNo. 5-Cascina Farsà (Bicocca) Held from 16 Regiment, Savona, for hours repelled attacks Austrians. Here fell wounded General Ettore Perrone.


No. 6-Cascina Castellazzo (Bicocca) Mail in a strategic position was defended by Regiment Savona and by Bersaglieri. Was captured by the Austrians, reconquered by the Piedmonts.

No. 7-Cascina Dominiona (Bicocca, Valletta of Arbogna) located on the side of 2nd Division Piedmont, was captured by the Austrians and then recaptured by the Casale brigade who kept it until the final retreat from Bicocca.

No. 8-Cascina Galvagna (Bicocca) Taken by the Austrians was attacked and conquered by Piedmont Regiment. In its vicinity was killed General Giuseppe Passalacqua.

Italian Lancer made of paste from Nico shop
Italian Cavalry from the newsagenyts in Italy. These were sold over the counter for 14 pounds each circa and built into a collection of fifty different pieces

bridge of boats

duke of Geonoa

Mortara Station

The seizure of Mortara led to this  battle between Austrian and Piedmontese troops at Novara, 28 miles (45 km) west of Milan. 70,000 Austrian troops, more disciplined than the 85,000 Piedmontese, thoroughly routed their opponent as they had at the Battle of Custoza the previous year.
 Piedmont also suffered from a lack of support from the smaller Italian states. General Girolamo Ramorino was accused of disobeying orders before the Battle of Novara, and, that same year, he was executed.
reenactors of Novara

The Piedmontese were driven back to Borgomanero at the foot of the Alps, and the Austrian forces occupied Novara, Vercelli and Trino, with the road to the Piedmontese capital, Turin, lying open to them.Radetsky made the mistake a leader should never make. He didn't go on to Piedmont and Turin and thus threw away the prize of not having to continue the war in ten years time and also losing it

Italian cavalry 1849
Austrian general Baron Julius von Haynau subdued Brescia, 54 miles NE of Milan, and Charles Albert abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel, who would later become the first king of a unified Italy. Friedrich Engels wrote "that after this defeat, a revolution and proclamation of a republic in Turin is expected arises from the fact that the attempt is being made to prevent it by the abdication of Charles Albert in favour of his eldest son." A Piedmontese Republic was not created, though a Roman Republic had already been proclaimed in February, and there existed a Venetian Republic as well. Charles Albert exiled himself to Oporto, Portugal, and died shortly thereafter.(to be continued unfinished)
mortara salami is famous


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.