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The Second War of Italian Independence, Franco-Austrian War, Austro-Sardinian War, or Austro-Piedmontese War, was fought by Napoleon III of France and the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia against the Austrian Empiremarker in 1859. In respect to the Italian unification process, this war is also known as the Second Independence War.

Background

The Piedmontese, following their defeat to Austria in the First Italian War of Independence, found that they could not defeat a great power such as Austria without allies. This led Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour to attempt to establish relations with other European powers, partially through Piedmont's participation in the Crimean War. In the peace conference at Parismarker for the Crimean War, Cavour attempted to bring attention to efforts for Italian unification. He found Britain and France to be sympathetic, but entirely unwilling to go against Austrian wishes, as any movement towards Italian independence would necessarily threaten Austria's territory in Lombardy and Venetia. Individual talks between Napoleon III and Cavour after the conference identified Napoleon as the most likely candidate for aiding Italy, though still not committed.

On January 14, 1858, Felice Orsini, an Italian, led an attempt on Napoleon III's life. This assassination attempt brought widespread sympathy for the Italian unification effort, and had a profound effect on Napoleon himself, who now was determined to help Piedmont against Austria in order to end the revolutionary activities that the governments inside Italy might allow to happen in the future. Emperor Napoleon III and Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, signed a secret treaty of alliance against Austria: France would help Sardinia to fight against Austria if attacked, and Sardinia would then give Nicemarker and Savoy to France in return. This secret alliance served both countries: it helped with the Sardinian (Piedmontese) plan of unification of the Italian peninsula under the House of Savoy, and weakened Austria, a fiery adversary of Napoleon III's French Empire.

Cavour, being unable to get the French help unless the Austrians attacked first, provoked Vienna with a series of military manoeuvers close to the border. Austria issued an ultimatum on April 23, 1859, asking for the complete de-militarization of the Kingdom of Sardinia, and when it was not heeded Austria started a war with Sardinia (April 29), thus drawing France into the conflict.

Forces

The French army for the Italian campaign had 130,000 soldiers, 2,000 horsemen and 312 guns, half of the whole French army. The army was under the command of Napoleon III, divided into five corps: the I Corps, led by Achille Baraguey d'Hilliers, the II, led by Patrice MacMahon, the III, led by François Certain Canrobert, the IV, led by Adolphe Niel, and the V, led by prince Napoleon. The Imperial Guard was commanded by Auguste Regnaud de Saint-Jean d'Angély.

The Sardinian army had about 70,000 soldiers, 4,000 horsemen and 90 guns. It was divided into five divisions, led by Casterlbrugo, Manfredo Fanti,Giovanni Durando, Enrico Cialdini, and Domenico Cucchiari. Two volunteers formations, the Cacciatori delle Alpi and the Cacciatori degli Appennini, were also present. The commander in chief was Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, supported by Alfonso Ferrero la Marmora.

The Austrian army fielded more men: it was composed by 220,000 soldiers, 824 guns and 22,000 horsemen. It was led by Field Marshal Ferencz Graf Gyulai.
Major places of the Austro-Sardinian war 1859


The operations

At the declaration of war, there were no French troops in Italy, so Marshal François Certain Canrobert moved in to Piedmont in the first massive use of railways. The Austrian forces counted on a swift victory over the weaker Sardinian army before French forces could arrive in Piedmont. However, Count Gyulai, the commander of the Austrian troops in Lombardy, was very cautious, marching around the Ticino Rivermarker in no specific direction for a while until eventually crossing it to begin the offensive. Unfortunately for him, very heavy rains began to fall as soon as he did this, allowing the Piedmontese to flood the rice fields in front of his advance, slowing his army's march to a crawl.

The Austrians under Gyulai eventually arrived in Vercellimarker, menacing Turinmarker, but the Franco-Sardinian move to strengthen Alessandriamarker and Po Rivermarker bridges around Casale Monferratomarker forced them to fall back. On May 14, Napoleon III arrived in Alessandria, taking the command of the operations. The initial clash of the war was at Montebello on 20 May, a battle between an Austrian Corps under Stadion against a single division of the French I Corps under Forey. The Austrian contingent was three times as large, but Forey pulled off the victory, making Gyulai even more defensive. In early June, Gyulai was near the rail center of Magentamarker with the army fairly spread out, and unfortunately caught defending too far east of the river. Napoleon III attacked the Ticino head on with part of his force while sending another large group of troops to the north to flank the Austrians. The plan worked, which led to Gyulai retreating very far to the quadrilateral fortresses in eastern Lombardy, where he was relieved of his post as commander.

Replacing Gyulai was Emperor Franz Josef I himself, feeling up to the simple task of defending the well-fortified Austrian territory behind the Mincio Rivermarker. He would experience his first and last command at the Battle of Solferinomarker. The Piedmontese-French army had taken Milanmarker and slowly marched further east to finish off Austria in this war before Prussia could get involved. The Austrians found out that the French had halted at Bresciamarker, and decided that they should attempt to surprise them by suddenly switching onto the attack. The French had also gone on the offensive, but neither side was sure of where exactly the other was until they suddenly met. Benedek with the Austrian VIII Corps was separated from the main force, defending Pozzolengomarker against the Piedmontese part of the opposing army. This they did successfully, though the rest of the Austrian army retreated as soon as a great storm hit, abandoning several towns to the French.

At the same time, in the northern part of Lombardy, the Italian volunteers of Giuseppe Garibaldi's Hunters of the Alps defeated the Austrians at Varesemarker and Como.

The peace

Fear of involvement by the German states led Napoleon to seek a way out of the war, so he signed an armistice with Austria in Villafrancamarker. Most of Lombardy, with its capital Milanmarker (excepting only the Austrian fortresses of Mantuamarker and Legnagomarker and the surrounding territory), was transferred from Austria to France, which would immediately cede these territories to Sardinia. The rulers of Central Italy, who had been expelled by revolution shortly after the beginning of the war, were to be restored.

This deal, made by Napoleon behind the backs of his Sardinian allies, led to great outrage in Sardinia — Cavour himself resigned in protest. However, the terms of Villafranca were never to come into effect: although they were reaffirmed by the final Treaty of Zurich in November, by then the agreement had become a dead letter. The central Italian states were occupied by the Piedmontese, who showed no willingness to restore the previous rulers, and the French showed no willingness to force them to abide by the terms of the treaty. The Austrians were left to look on in frustration at the French failure to carry out the terms of the treaty.

The next year, in 1860, with French and British approval, the central Italian states — Duchy of Parma, Duchy of Modena, Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal Legations — would be annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, and France would take its deferred reward, Savoy and Nice. This latter move was vehemently opposed by Italian national hero Garibaldi, a native of Nicemarker, and directly led to Garibaldi's expedition to Sicily, which would complete the preliminary unification of Italy.

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