Sunday, 24 October 2010


This is the view you get from the Tower at san Martino. .The first time I saw this was from the top of the tower that holds the museum in San Martino and you straight away understand that it is perfect country for high scale slaughter. It seems a shame that the battle was fought here as it is one of the prettiest parts of Italy.
Down the road at Solferino we had spent a morning in the museum which really merits a visit but make sure you understand some Italian as everything is going to go over your head, try and take a guide.  
If you are interested in all that this blog is about a visit to both Solferino and San Martino is a must. There are few places where in two seperate but near locations you can drink in the atmosphere of
a battle, in this case two battles. The battles were fought because of a kind of arrogance and lack of logic and they were fought by armies who blundered on to things not just here but for most of the war.These are from my collection. very rare examples of the cavalry at solferino by hachette. this was a two weekly newsagent possibility and came with a magazine. I photographed these on the window sill is the piazza di castello and below that as it is today
as said in the last post the night of 23-24 had seen the Austrians  ford the Mincio, heading towards  the franco-Italian army. Solferino, San Cassiano,Oratory of San Cassiano Cavriana(below), all seemingly impregnable were in possession of the Austrians, who with numerous artillery stretched on all the Highlands up to volta and  in the lowlands  between Volta, Guidizzolo and Medole pushed through strong columns with artillery and cavalry. At five in the morning  the battle had begun with the French of  D'HilliersFile:Achille Baraguey d'Hilliers.jpg and after a stubborn fight he managed to occupy the heights and the village of Solferino. This was a Waterloo battle, as in if you see the enemy then attack with the bayonet. The clashes between Croats and Muslims were epic. No prisoners and if wounded cut their throat. A Waterloo battle with precision firepower.This was maybe the last battle of this nature.        above the turcos at solferino
"The first regiments like the 23rd, the 45th, the 90th, etc., which arrived at a run to reinforce the grenadiers {of the Imperial Guard] had no artillery and could not go against the Austrians by they charged them at a run with the bayonet.

Hardly one-hundred to two-hundred meters distant from the enemy our soldiers heard the commands of the Austrian officers quite well; seeing themselves targeted, they threw themselves flat on their stomachs : two seconds later, brrr, a hail of grape and bullets cut down the laggards! The gale passing, the French rose and ran another thirty to forty meters and then lay down again. In this way, they were able to come to grips with the enemy..."

(,Above the Turcos fight with the Austrians) and gradually the whole day was favourable to the French .

The guards seized Cavriana and Cassiana, while Niel progressed, with the fourth Austrian corps divided in two parts..

Above is the memorial tower built after the battle but remember this is not the tower called the Spy of Italy Where Napoleon the third espied the austrians
All the day another fight, separate from this, had been going on between Benedek(below) and the Sardinian army near the knoll of San Martino, overlooking the lake of Garda.from the tower  above this is the view

Everything was staked on the moral ascendancy and the sheer guts of the soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers, veterans of the hard schools of Algeria and the Crimea. And, in many cases, the bet was won: Austrian troops, inexperienced, tired, hungry, ill-led, or disaffected, broke under the savage assault of the French. But, just as often, the same Austrians, sheltered in houses or trenches and firing at rest, made Napoleon III's troops pay a high, too high a cost, for the furia francese" .

Austrian cavalry are attacked by Piemontese on my window sill. My window sill is not part of the real battlefield

The battle, which began in the early morning among the cypresses that crowned the hillock, raged till seven p.m with a fury which cost the Piedmontese over 4,000 in dead and wounded

At four in the afternoon they made a supreme effort to reestablish communications and a struggle ensued, fearful that they would lose the entire army the Austrians retreated across the Board, hampered by a terrible storm, with thunder, hail and storm of wind that lasted over an hour, the Austrians disappeared, fleeing towards Goito,
A wonderful victory and  the capture of Peschiera plus the  navy operations in the Adriatic. Instead  the losers were the allies, the winner the Emperor of Austria.that is if we are talking about kicking the Austrians out of Italy forever for things went wrong

Napoleon had already decided to end the war, under the powerful impression of a letter he had received on the eve of the battle of Solferino, where he was warned of  the danger of war on the Rhine. His Ministers were in agreement that the army commanded by Marshal Pellissier was insufficient to keep out a United Germany.

(4 July Napoleon III received a letter of magnitude from Paris  from an aide-de-camp of Tsar ALEXANDER II, who "exhorted  him to make peace  in Lombardy, because otherwise  Prussia would have attacked  France while he was engaged in the Veneto, and Russia, which until then had retained the Prussians, would have been forced to remain neutral". The Tsar was  outraged that someone used the name of Russia "it's a shame, we did not know a word of this proposal."chasseurs by mignot
 The battle consisted largely in hand-to-hand fighting, which now gave an advantage to the Austrians, now to the Italians; many of the positions were lost and re-taken more than half-a-dozen times; the issue seemed long doubtful, and when Benedek, who commanded his side with unquestionable ability, received orders from the field of Solferino to begin a retreat, each combatant was firmly convinced that he was getting the best of it.

line infantry by mignot

Austrian writers allege that this order saved the Sardinians from defeat, while in both Italian and French narratives, the Piedmontese are represented as having been already sure of success.
 The courage shown alike by Piedmontese and Austrians could not be surpassed. Victor Emmanuel, as usual, set an great
example to his men.

An incident in the battle brings into striking relief what it was this bloody strife was meant to end. An Austrian corporal fell, mortally wounded by a Bersagliere whom he conjured, in Italian, to listen to what he had got to say.File:Maleville1859.jpgMaleville at Medole
 It was this: Forced into the Austrian army, he had been obliged to serve through the war, but had never fired his rifle on his fellow-countrymen; now he preferred to die rather than defend himself.
So he yielded up his breath with his hand clasped in the hand which had slain him.chasseurs D'Afrique
The Austrians lost, on the 24th of June, 13,000 men  killed and wounded; the French, 10,000. It was said that the frightful scene of carnage on the battlefield after Solferino influenced Napoleon III. in his desire to stop the war. Had that scene vanished from his recollection in June 1870?

Even a field of battle, with its unburied dead, speaks only of a small part of the miseries of a great war.The peasants killed the wounded and took what they could, this was typical of Northern Italian peasants not known for intelligence compassion or fair play.( I live in the Brianza area and theres nothing a Brianzan woyuldn't do to rob sixpence from his neighbour, scum of the earth)
. Those who were at that time at Brescia, to which town the greater portion of the French wounded and all the worst cases were brought, still shudder as they recall the dreadful human suffering which no skill or devotion could do more than a very little to assuage.brescia 1859
 The noble Brescian ladies who had once nursed Bayard, turned, with one accord, into sisters of charity; every house, every church, became a hospital, all that gratitude and pity could do was done; but many were to leave their bones in Italy, and how many more to go home maimed for life, or bearing with them the seeds of death.Other reasons than those of sentiment in reality decided Napoleon's course. Though these can only be guessed at, the guess, at the present date, amounts to certainty. In the first place, the skin-deep rejoicings in Paris at the news of the victories did not hide the fact that French public opinion, never genuinely favourable to the war, was becoming more and more hostile to it. Then there was the military question. It is true that the Fifth Corps, estimated at 30,000 men, had, at last, emerged from its crepuscular doings in Tuscany, and was available for future operations. Moreover, Kossuth paid a visit to the Imperial headquarters, and held out hopes of a revolution in Hungary which would oblige the Austrian Emperor to remove part of his troops from the scene of the war.mokarexlegion at solferino
 Nevertheless, Napoleon was by no means convinced that his army was sufficient to take the Quadrilateral. He realised the bad organisation and numerous shortcomings of the forces under him so vividly that it seems incredible that, in the eleven following years, he should have done nothing to remedy them. He attributed his success mainly to chance, though in a less degree to a certain lack of energy in the Austrians, joined with the exaggerated fear of responsibility felt by their leaders. He never could thoroughly understand why the Austrians had not won Solferino. Naturally, he did not express these opinions to his marshals, but there is ample proof that he held them; and if the fact stood alone, it ought not to be difficult to explain why he was not anxious for a continuance of the war.But it does not stand alone. Napoleon feared being defeated on the Rhine as well as in the Quadrilateral.
Prussia had six army corps ready, and she was about to move them. That, after her long hesitations, she resolved to intervene was long doubted, but it cannot be so after the evidence which recent years have produced.
At the time things wore a different complexion. Europe was never more amazed than when, on the 6th of July, Napoleon the victor sent General Fleury (below)to Francis Joseph the vanquished with a request for an armistice.
 One point only was plain; an armistice meant peace without Venetia, and never did profound sorrow so quickly succeed national joy than when this, to contemporaries astonishing intelligence, went forth. But the blow fell on no Italian with such tremendous force as on Cavour.
There are natives of Italy who appear to be more cool, more calculating, more completely masters of themselves, than the men of any other nationality. Cavour was one of these. But there comes, sooner or later, the assertion of southern blood, the explosion of feeling the more violent because long contained, and the cool, quiet Italian of yesterday is not to be recognised except by those who know the race intimately well, and who know the volcano that underlies its ice and snow as well as its luxuriant vegetation.
On Wednesday, the 6th of June, the French army was spread out in battle array along the left bank of the Mincio, and everything led to the supposition that a new and immediate battle was in contemplation.canrobert kept his troops out of the action and was severely criticized


SStrada Ponte Oglio, 46011 ACQUANEGRA SUL CHIESE MNAl PonteTrattoria Al Ponte is popular among the locals (and merits an illustration in another post!). Run by Vania (chef) and Dario (host), it even boasted a write-up by one of Italy's gastronomic television personalities, but what made it special from the start was the host. The reception was very welcoming, and to take our order, Dario actually pulled up a chair and sat down with us. It was akin to coming to dine with family. And this he also did with everyone else that came in after us!

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The menu offered plates based upon fish caught from the river, and for an antipasto, the Frittura di saltarelli e zucchine piqued my curiosity. Saltarelli are itty bitty tiny river shrimps and in this dish were fried with thinly julienned zucchini. Looking like a green haystack and a bit on the salty side, I found them interesting in its crunchiness. My bird chose something to her liking, Terrina di piccione e fegato d'oca con balsamico 12 anni.

(Squab and goose liver terrine with balsamic vinegar that was aged 12 years)

For the primi we ended up ordering three on the menu:

Bigoli al torchio al profumo di Sarde

Caramelle di Luccio alle erbe aromatiche e semi di Papavero

Gnocchi di patate e zucca in crema di zucca

The above photo is of the bigoli, which I am guessing, is extruded from a pasta press called a torchio and resembles fat spaghetti. It is typically made with whole wheat flour and served with a sauce of anchovies or fresh sardines. The Caramelle were actually pasta in the shape of rectangular candies twisted/crimped at both ends and filled with luccio (freshwater pike). Served in a sauce of butter, herbs, and poppy seeds, it was the most unique of the three selected. The final dish of potato and pumpkin gnocchi was also something that I could imagine my mother-in-law preparing, but this plate was up a notch on creativity as the pumpkin cream sauce included provolone piccante and sweet paprika.

As a second, Filetti di Storione ai fiori di cappero, pomodorini e olio — Sturgeon fillets simmered in capers, cherry tomatoes, and olive oil. Delicious! And I only hope that it wasn't a better choice over the Eels in lemon alla grandma Maria's style that were also on the menu.We were stuffed and ready to call it quits, but after coffee, relented to their own housemade liqueurs. Really, an enjoyable dinner all around, and Dario even gifted us with a bottle of their liquirizia (a licorice-based liqueur). I believe he must already know that we'll be back — I have to try those eels!The prices here are around 20-25 quid but its a place that you should try,By the way there's always an old bird thats called Maria in Italian eateries;normally they look like an aged Danny La Rue with stubble and smell of piss.They are kept in the back where they stir soup or other minor acts of cookery but on the menu you always see "Maria Style" something. AVOID Anything Grandma Maria

After you have eaten remember to check out the church in Solferino. As you walk in there are the busts of every French officer who fell at Solferino . Its sad but impressive

at the last celebration of Solferino San Martino the Legion, the real one came to the event and here they are below

But it was a shame they let the politicians speak at the event, The Mayor of the area said something like "We Italians blah blah blah and more blah blah blah blah and finished with something like "Oh yeah the French were here too" Kinda like an after thought!!!!! The truth is that the French bore the brunt of all the fights for if it had not been for them Italy would still be divided up into parts with the biggest parts being Austrian
Who knows it might even be better run!

The various Mayors of the celebration of 150 years of the battle. These are from Magenta and Montebello as well. The Mayor of Solferino was cringingly embarrassing in his speech at San Martino as it was obvious he knew shit about his own town , thats as regards the comment about the French. Italy today is made up of "chancer" politicians who treat the
public who pay their wages as if they were medieval vassals but the people here unlike the French take it and do nothing.It has to be said though that just before the 150 years at Solferino San Martino we took in the week before the celebrations at Magenta where the Mayor got it right.

Another good place. Ristorante La Spia d'Italia via Dei Francesi, 2 - Solferino (MN tel. 0376/893470Sito internet: Albergo La Spia d'Italia . This is in Solferino and worth a visit . About 27 pounds per person.

Bersaglieri del Crimea. Little difference to Italy

The Piedmontese were engaged in making preparations to invest Peschiera. Napoleon's headquarters were at Valleggio, those of the King at Monzambano. By the evening a very few persons had picked up the information that Napoleon had sent a messenger to Verona.

French Line infantry !859

Victor Emmanuel knew nothing of it, nor did any of the French generals except Marshal Vaillant, but such things leak out, and two or three individuals were aware of the journey to Verona, and spent that night in racking their brains as to what it might mean. Next day at eleven o'clock General Fleury returned; the Austrian Emperor had accepted the armistice.

Further secrecy was impossible, and like lightning the news flashed through the world.Cavour rushed from Turin to Desenzano,above) where he arrived the day before the final meeting between Napoleon and Francis Joseph.ù

He waited for a carnage in the little café in the piazza; no one guessed who it was, and conversation went on undisturbed: it was full of curses on the French Emperor. Mazzini, someone said, was right; this is the way the war was sure to end. When a shabby conveyance had at length been found, the great statesman drove to Monzambano. There, of course, his arrival did not escape notice, and all who saw him were horrified by the change that had come over his face.

Instead of the jovial, witty smile, there was a look of frantic rage and desperation. What passed between him and his Sovereign is partly a matter of conjecture; the exact sense of the violent words into which his grief betrayed him is lost, in spite of the categorical versions of the interview which have been printed.File:Incontro Napoleone III Francesco Giuseppe presso Villafranca.jpg
 Even in a fit of madness he can hardly have spoken some of the words attributed to him.
 That he advised the King to withdraw his army or to abdicate rather than agree to the peace which was being plotted behind his back, seems past doubting.
It is said that after attempting in vain to calm him, Victor Emmanuel brought the interview to a sudden close. Cavour came out of the house flushed and exhausted, and drove back to Desenzano.
 He had resigned office. The King showed extraordinary self-control. Bitter as the draught was, he saw that it must be drunk, and he was determined to drink it with dignity.
 Probably no other Italian grasped as clearly as he did the real reason which actuated Napoleon; at any rate his chivalrous appreciation of the benefits already received, closed his lips to reproaches.
 'Whatever may be the decision of your Majesty,' he said to the Emperor on the eve of Villafranca, 'I shall feel an eternal gratitude for what you have done for the independence of Italy, and I beg you to believe that under all circumstances you may reckon on my complete fidelity.
imperial guards in flat form
'When, on the evening of the same day, the Emperor of Austria signed the preliminaries of peace, he said to Prince Napoleon, who took the document to Verona for his signature: 'I pray God that if you are ever a sovereign He may spare you the hour of grief I have just passed.' Yet the defeat of Solferino and the loss of Lombardy were the first steps in the transformation of Radetsky's pupil from a despot, who hourly feared revolution in every land under his sceptre, to a wise and constitutional monarch ruling over a contented Empire. To some individuals and to some states, misfortune is fortune    end of this post

Wargaming the period can be wonderful , below is terrain made by

Bruce's Nice Terrain Tables

Approaching MagentaVV

Illo 2



  1. I am using your photo of Solferino for a Book Review on The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. Solferino is a destination in the novel and a symbol of war. I used the name of your blog
    for credit.

    Carmen Sterba

  2. ok can you let me know where i can send the billing