The Italian Wars of Unification

After the collapse of the western Roman Empire, the former Roman fuselage of today's Italy also fell into many often rivaling kingdoms and city-states. Not infrequently, these small areas were under the rule of the larger European powers such as Austria or Spain.

At the end of the 18th century Napoleon invaded with his French troops to expel the Austrians, he incorporated the French territory of the northwest and central Italy. He also united the rest in a northern kingdom and in the south into a Sicilian kingdom. After its defeat and exile, the reversion to the old lordships and borders took place, but Austria secured control of the northern region of Lombardy-Veneto and 3 smaller areas.

The resulting uprisings were crushed, but the will to reach agreement was not broken.


Italien Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts

Italy mid-19th century




The first war:

The French Revolution, which broke out in February 1848, spread over much of Europe. So also in March the Italian areas that wanted to renounce the rule of Austria. In Milan, Lombardy and Venice riots broke out. The restraint of the Austrians took King Charles Albert of Sardinia-Piedmont on the occasion to drive the Austrians out of Lombardy and declared war on the country. Shortly thereafter, Venice declared its independence.


Ausrufung der Republik Venedig am 23. März

Proclamation of the Republic of Venice on March 23rd


The Austrian troops under the leadership of Marshal Josef Radetzky withdrew from Milan and waited in the fortress cities of Verona, Mantua, Peschiera and Legnano for the advancing troops of Karl Albert. These were able to conquer the city of Peschiera quickly and then turned to the mountain town of Custoza, where they were beaten in July 1848, however. Now, the Austrians advanced and conquered Milan and then drove Karl Albert's troops from Lombardy, so this had to close a truce.

Already in March 1849 the fighting broke out again. The Austrians defeated Charles Albert's troops at Novara and besieged Venice, whose independence was declared over in August. Although a revolt broke out in Florence, this was quickly suppressed by the Austrians. King Karl Albert thanked to make room for his son Viktor Emanuel II.


Feldmarschall Radetzky am 23. März 1849 bei Novara

Field Marshal Radetzky on March 23, 1849 at Novara


Already in February 1849, the Republic of Rome was proclaimed in the south. Italian nationalists expelled Pope Pius IX. and entrenched themselves in the city against the now advancing troops from Naples and France. On 30 June, the defenders had to surrender and in the south of Italy, the hope for unity broke.




The second war:

The result of the first unification war was merely a liberal constitution for the Piedmont region. But 10 years after the first attempt, the Prime Minister of Piedmont Count Cavour with the French emperor Napoleon III. to agree on a secret agreement, which aimed at the expulsion of the Austrians. After the conclusion of Piedmont provoked a declaration of war Austria, France was his obligations and sent the first military mass transport by rail about 130,000 soldiers and as many horses in the combat area.

The first meeting of the troops took place on 4 June 1859 at Magenta. The French troops were divided into two parts, with one half attacking the Austrians from the west via one channel and the other half from the north. The French troops in the west could be stopped for a while, as the advance of troops coming from the north was slower than expected. But in the late afternoon of the battle day, the northern troops finally reached the city and were able to drive out the Austrians after a heavy house fight.

These then retreated to the east while the French took Milan. On June 24, the advancing French could unexpectedly catch the Austrians at Solferino. In the bloody battle, the French could win the battle with their better guns and the support of their foreign legionnaires.


Napoleon III. in der Schlacht von Solferino

Napoleon III. in the battle of Solferino


Based on the violence of the Battle of Solferino, France and Austria made peace. After this Austria had to cede Lombardy to Piedmont, which in turn gave as thanks to the French Nice and Savoy in the west to France. Austria also lost its 3 Central Italian territories to Piedmont.




The war against Naples:

After the partial unification of the Italian north, the revolutionary leader Giuseppe Garibaldi began with the unification of the South. For this he landed in May 1860 from Genoa with about 1,000 soldiers in Sicily. There, more volunteers joined him and the troops marched inland. At Calatafimi, in the west of Sicily, Neapolitan troops were defeated for the first time, then Palermo was taken.


Giuseppe Garibaldi

Giuseppe Garibaldi


With the help of the Royal Navy, his troops transferred to the mainland, and shortly thereafter Naples. In October, 1860, the next victory at Volturno took place and at Gaeta, he joined the enemy troops with the approaching from the north army of Piedmont. This had to capitulate in February 1861 and in March Emanuel II was crowned King of Italy.




Venice and the Roman territory:

In March 1861, almost the entire territory of Italy could be united into one state. However, Venetia around Venice, as well as the area around Rome, were still independent or belonged to Austria.

In June 1866, Italy then joined Prussia in the war against Austria in order to assert its claims on Veneto. Although Austria could beat Italian troops at Custoza and Lissa, the country lost the war against Prussia. After the peace negotiations, Austria had to cede Veneto to Italy.

In the Franco-German War of 1870, France was forced to withdraw its legion, which had stationed the country for the protection of the pope in Rome. Italy seized the opportunity and conquered the now unprotected territory and incorporated it into the Italian state. Here, Rome was proclaimed as the capital.




Further annexation of Italy:

The last territories awarded to the Italian state were added after the First World War. After the capitulation of the Austrian Empire fell to Italy South Tyrol, Trieste and Istria.






You can find the right literature here:


The Second War of Italian Unification 1859–61

The Second War of Italian Unification 1859–61 (Essential Histories) Paperback – June 19, 2012

The culmination of decades of nationalist aspiration and cynical Realpolitik, the Second War of Italian Unification saw Italy transformed from a patchwork of minor states dominated by the Habsburg Austrians into a unified kingdom under the Piedmontese House of Savoy. Overshadowed by subsequent conflicts, the war saw the first widespread use of railroads in war and the first battlefield deployment of rifled field artillery, as well as the last major battle in world history where all the forces involved were under the personal command of their monarchs. The savage nature of the fighting led to the foundation of the Red Cross and the establishment of the Geneva Conventions, while the colorful uniforms and aggressive doctrine espoused by the French Army in particular were to influence those on both sides of the American Civil War. Beyond the battlefields, the outcome of the war represented a culminating triumph for the Piedmontese prime minister, Camillo di Cavour, whose success in winning and retaining French and British support for his plans for Italian unification has provided a model for the leaders of junior partners allied to world powers ever since.

Between April and July 1859 the first stage of the war pitted Napoleon III's French armies and their Piedmontese allies against the Habsburg Austrian forces that had invaded Piedmont. A series of bloody clashes culminating in Solferino-San Martino, the largest battle on European soil since Leipzig in 1813, resulted in decisive defeat for the Austrians and the end of the war in the north. Ten months later the second stage of the war began as the legendary Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Sicily with 1,000 volunteers, intent on overthrowing the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After ejecting the Bourbon forces from Sicily Garibaldi crossed to the mainland and marched on Naples, the capital. The rapid collapse of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies took everyone by surprise; Cavour feared Garibaldi would capitalize on this victory and march on Rome, but Cavour and Garibaldi agreed to unify their halves of Italy and their respective armies. The remnants of the Bourbon armies finally surrendered in February 1861 and Piedmont's king, Victor Emmanuel, was crowned king of Italy a month later.

Unlike many existing accounts, which approach the events of 1859-61 from a predominantly French perspective, this study draws upon a huge breadth of sources to examine the conflict as a critical event in Italian history. A concise explanation of the origins of the war is followed by a wide-ranging survey of the forces deployed and the nature and course of the fighting - on land and at sea - and the consequences for those involved are investigated. This is a groundbreaking study of a conflict that was of critical significance not only for Italian history but also for the development of 19th-century warfare.

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The Italians of Dalmatia: From Italian Unification to World War I

The Italians of Dalmatia: From Italian Unification to World War I (Toronto Italian Studies (Paperback)) 1st Edition

Located on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, the area known as Dalmatia, part of modern-day Croatia and Montenegro, was part of the Austrian Empire during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dalmatia was a multicultural region that had traditionally been politically and economically dominated by its Italian minority. In The Italians of Dalmatia, Luciano Monzali argues that the vast majority of local Italians were loyal to and supportive of Habsburg rule, desiring only a larger degree of local autonomy. An Italian national consciousness developed only in response to pressure from Slavic national movements and was facilitated by the emergence of a large, unified, and independent Italian state.

Using little-known Italian, Austrian, and Dalmatian sources, Monzali explores the political history of Dalmatia between 1848 and 1915, with a focus on the Italian minority, on Austrian-Italian relations and on the foreign policy of the Italian state towards the region and its peoples.

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Armies of the Italian Wars of Unification 1848–70 (1)

Armies of the Italian Wars of Unification 1848–70 (1): Piedmont and the Two Sicilies (Men-at-Arms) Paperback – August 22, 2017

In the 1840s, post-Napoleonic Italy was 'a geographical expression'--not a country, but a patchwork of states. The north (Savoy/Piedmont, and Venice ) was ruled by Austria-Hungary, and most of the minor central states were more or less clients of Austria. From Naples, a Spanish-descended Bourbon monarchy ruled the south--'the Two Sicilies.' The European 'Year of Revolutions', 1848, saw popular uprisings against the regimes all over the peninsula. These were eventually crushed (First War of Independence, 1848–49); but they left King Victor Emmanuel of Savoy/Piedmont--and his able minister Cavour--determined to liberate and unify the country, while royal authority in the Two Sicilies was left deeply unpopular.

Savoy/Piedmont endeavored to strengthen the relationship with France and Britain, by sending troops to fight alongside them in the Crimean War, 1854-56 and, as a result, it was actively supported by a French army in the Second War of Independence (1859), when the battles of Magenta and Solferino freed most of the north from Austrian rule. In the south, Garibaldi's 'Redshirts' led a successful rising against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1860). Eventually the south voted to join the north in a unified kingdom (February 1861); nevertheless, northern troops had to enforce this by a ruthless occupation during the 1860s--a little-known campaign.

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Armies of the Italian Wars of Unification 1848–70 (2)

Armies of the Italian Wars of Unification 1848–70 (2): Papal States, Minor States & Volunteers (Men-at-Arms) Paperback – August 21, 2018

In the 1840s, Italy was a patchwork of states. The North was ruled by the Austrian Empire, the South by the Spanish-descended monarchy of the Two Sicilies. Over the next two decades, after wars led by Savoy/Piedmont and volunteers such as Garibaldi, an independent Kingdom of Italy emerged. These conflicts saw foreign interventions and shifting alliances among minor states, and attracted a variety of local and foreign volunteers.

This second volume in a two part series covers the armies of the Papal States; the duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena; the republics of Rome and San Marco (Venice) and the transitional Kingdom of Sicily; and the various volunteer movements. These varied armies and militias wore a wide variety of highly colorful uniforms which are brought to life in stunning, specially commissioned, full color artwork from Giuseppe Rava.

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