Volume two of the conflicts of the continental European nations
The conflicts of the nineteenth century did much to create the modern world. Following the defeat of the First Empire of the French, most of Europe was in perpetual turmoil and became the stage for many small wars. The turn of the twentieth century brought even greater catastrophes, since the century that had just passed had sown the seeds of global warfare. From 1820 the people of continental Europe—from the Atlantic coasts to the Middle East—were embroiled in struggles which were both national conflicts and rebellions. This was a time when the nations we know today came into being within regions which had previously been held in thrall for generations by declining empires. Additionally, the age of colonialism saw continental European armies fighting across world. This unique Leonaur three volume set focuses, in chronological order, on the battles which were fought during this turbulent era. Beginning after the fall of Napoleon, and excluding, in the main, the conflicts of the British Empire, these narratives cover the most notable and interesting actions which involved continental European armies. Turkish and North African conflicts are also included. Each book is profusely illustrated with maps and black and white illustrations and the set is wonderful resource of information on largely forgotten wars that is suitable for all students of military history. This second of this three volume set includes fourteen accounts including Aspromonte, Custosa, Duppel, Mars la Tour, Gravelotte and others.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
All day the Italian army had been pouring across the bridges of the Mincio, and advancing by the hot, sandy roads—the right into the plain of Villafranca, the left towards the low hills that border it on the northward, stretching from the lake of Garda to Custozza and Somma Campagna. General La Marmora was confident of victory. He was occupying the very ground where the allied armies of France and Italy had stayed their onward march in 1859. He was going to take up the work of conquest where Napoleon III. had left off, and he hoped to complete it by entering Venice as a victor. North and south and away to his front lay the famed fortresses of the Quadrilateral, the keys of Northern Italy; but their garrisons were cowering behind the ramparts, and doing nothing to disturb his movements.
On the Saturday night about half the Italian army was across the river, and the rest was close up to the bridges, ready to follow in the morning. The troops were to be moving by 3.30 a.m., and La Marmora had issued orders for an advance upon Verona. The right was to move by the plain of Villafranca to the hills round Somma Campagna; the left was to enter the hill country, more directly marching from Monzambano and Valeggio on Castelnuovo and Sona. The object of the movement was to occupy the mass of hills to the south-east of the lake of Garda, cut off Peschiera from Verona, and threaten the positions held by the Archduke near that fortress.
On the Sunday morning, the Italians were under arms at half-past three, and soon after their columns were on the move. The men had no breakfast before starting, beyond a piece of bread or a biscuit taken from the haversack and eaten as they waited for the order to march off. It was intended to halt later on for breakfast, but the Italian staff was anxious to get the march over as early as possible, as it was expected that it would be a very hot day. So sure were they that the enemy would not be encountered in force that no cavalry were sent out to scout in front. In front of each column there was an advance guard; but so badly was the march arranged, and so loosely was the connection between the advance guards and those that followed them kept up, that the vanguard of Sirtori’s division, consisting of some 2,500 men with six guns, took the wrong road, and got in front of the vanguard of Cerale’s division; while, by a blunder of the leading portion of Cerale’s column, his main body wandered on to the road assigned to General Sirtori. Thus, there was the singular spectacle of two advance guards following each other on one road, while their main bodies calmly marched in long procession along another.
The start had been made shortly before four o’clock. The march had proceeded for a little more than an hour, and five had just struck from the village bell towers, when General La Marmora, who was riding with centre, was surprised at hearing far away to the right, in the direction of Villafranca, the roar of guns in action. The two divisions of the Italian third corps, commanded by the Crown Prince Humbert and by General Bixio, had been attacked by Austrian cavalry and horse-artillery. The Italians behaved well. The infantry formed into squares, and beat off three cavalry charges; the artillery galloped up, unlimbered, and drove away the Austrian guns with a few well-aimed shells.
By six o’clock the fight was over, and the enemy was in retreat. La Marmora had ridden towards the firing, and when he received the report of what had happened, he at once made up his mind that the affair was of very little importance. He felt sure that the Austrian force consisted only of Pulz’s regiments, the same which had been watching the river two days before, and had retired through Villafranca when the Italians advanced on the Saturday.
The divisions of his first corps on the left had now entered the hilly country, and at half-past six, a good half-hour after the last shot had been fired at Villafranca, there was a still more startling incident on the left. Sirtori was marching his division across the deep little valley through which the Tione flows, and the leading regiment was ascending the slope beyond its left bank. Sirtori himself rode near the head of the column. Suddenly a volley was fired at the leading ranks by riflemen lying in ambush among the trees and enclosures of a farmstead at the top of the slope.
Sirtori, pulling up his horse, looked through his field-glasses at the wreaths of smoke that hung in the still, clear morning air; but so well hidden were the riflemen that he could not make out their uniforms. Nevertheless, he felt so sure that the Austrians were not in front of him, and he so little suspected that his vanguard was on another road, that he told those near him that the ambushed foes must be their own comrades of the vanguard firing on them by mistake, and he sent two of his officers galloping forward to stop the fire. They came careering back down the slope to tell him that they had narrowly escaped being killed or captured by a regiment of Austrian Jagers, and the next minute the sight of guns unlimbering on the ridge told the startled Italian general that he had come upon a hostile army in battle array. A minute more and the deep voice of the first gun told even La Marmora that he had made a terrible mistake, and that the Austrians were in action on his left as well as his right.