hungarian cavalryIn 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
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.
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.
Italian dragoons lombardy
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.
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.
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.jagersAt 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.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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
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)