Cavour read the document, and then drew his watch out of his pocket. It was half-past five in the afternoon. At the same hour on the 26th, he gave Baron von Kellersperg the answer: 'Sardinia having accepted the principle of a general disarmament, as formulated by England, with the adhesion of France, Prussia and Russia, the Sardinian Government has no other explanation to make.'
The retort was justified. Austria, which now required Sardinia to disarm, had refused to disarm herself. She must take the consequences.
The British Government made a last desperate effort to maintain peace, and the Austrians always said that this was their ruin, as it delayed the invasion of Piedmont for a week.
On the 29th appeared the Emperor Francis Joseph's Declaration of War, and on the same day the first Austrian columns crossed the Ticino.
The Austrian commander-in-chief was Count Gyulai, who was in high favour with the aristocratic party, by which his appointment was made upon, if not forced upon, the Emperor.
The latter, not altogether easy in his mind about Gyulai's capabilities, commissioned General Hess, in whom he placed full confidence, to keep his eye on him.
Hess could not, however, do much more than take notes of one of the most remarkable and providential series of blunders ever committed by the commander of an army.
In spite of the delay which the Austrians ascribed to the English peace negotiations, there was time for them to destroy the Sardinian army before the French came up.
Gyulai had 100,000 men in the theatre of war, a number increased up to 200,000 during the campaign.
Both Sardinia and her ally mustered much fewer men than were spoken of at Plombières.
The Piedmontese could dispose of 56,000 infantry, formed in five divisions, one division of cavalry numbering 4,000, and one brigade of volunteers, to which the name was given of 'Cacciatori delle Alpi.'
The enrolment of these was stopped when it had reached the small figure of 4,500 men, a figure that looks out of all proportion with the brilliant part they played.
The French army consisted of 128,000 men, including about 10,000 cavalry.
The French Ministry of War proved totally inept when it came to its estimates for the troops available for the Italian campaign. At most they could put together just 200,000 men, while a further 50,000 were needed in Algeria, and another 6,000 were used to support the Papal government in Rome.
This supposedly left 200,000 troops in eleven infantry and two cavalry divisions scattered around France for home defence. But these were not all first line regiments, and consisted mainly of garrison and fortress troops together with depot maintenance parties.
Luckily for Napoleon III Prussia was not able to move more swiftly to the aid of Austria in 1859; had she done so the French Emperor may have been crushingly defeated on the Rhine
The Emperor's Government had notified beforehand to Vienna that the passage of the Ticino by the Austrian troops would be considered equivalent to a declaration of war, and accordingly, on the 29th of April, diplomatic relations between the two Powers were broken off.
The 2nd Division of General Joseph Vinoy, belonging to the 4th French Army Corps, reaches the Piedmont through the pass of Moncenisio on the 5th of may 1859The French forces had been really on the move for more than a week—ever since, in fact, by what the Marquis of Normanby called 'an unpardonable breach of confidence,' the intention of Austria to invade Sardinia was communicated to Paris.
The mobilisation was conducted with rapidity; in spite of the snow, which lay deep on the Mont Cenis, the first corps, under Marshal Baraguay d'Hilliers, made a swift march over the Alps, and the foremost division entered Turin on the 30th of April.The troops of Canrobert and Niel, who commanded the third and fourth corps, were sent by Toulon and Marseilles, while the generals themselves went on to Turin in advance. MacMahon's corps, which was the second, was on its way from Algiers.
The fifth corps, under the command of Prince Napoleon, was despatched at a later date to Tuscany, where it was kept in a state of inactivity, which suggested rather a political than a military mission.
General Regnault de Saint-Jean d'Angély commanded the Imperial Guard. Napoleon III assumed the supreme command of the allied armies, with General Vaillant as head of the staff.
The condition of neither French nor Austrian army was satisfactory. The former had more modern arms and a greater proportion of old soldiers, but it was generally thought that the French cavalry, so far superior to the Prussian in the war of 1870, was inferior to the Austrian in 1859.
In point of discipline, they were probably superior to the French, who fought, however, and this should always be remembered of them in Italy, with the best will in the world.