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The First Italian War of Independence started on March 23, 1848, when King Charles Albert declared war against the Austrians. It ended when the same king broke the truce, resulting in Austria’s bloodiest attack at Piedmont on March 23, 1849.
See the fact file below for more information on the First Italian War of Independence or alternatively, you can download our 25-page First Italian War of Independence worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
BEFORE THE REVOLUTIONS
- In the 3rd century BC, Rome united Italy, and this lasted for over 700 years. When the Western Roman Empire fell, Italy remained united under the Ostrogothic Kingdom.
- Centuries passed after the Frankish Empire’s conquest, and Italy’s king merged with the office of the Holy Roman Emperor. These emperors allowed Italy to become a system of city-states.
- The Kingdom of Sicily ruled southern Italy, and the Pope governed central Italy as a temporal Kingdom of Papal States.
- During Napoleon’s invasion and occupation of Italy, he introduced revolutionary ideas about government and society. He overthrew the trace of feudalism and established the Napoleonic Code.
- These changes aroused the spirit of nationalism of the Italians. Thus, freedom and equality had become new the battle cry of the Italian Peninsula.
- After Napoleon’s downfall in 1814, the Congress of Vienna tried to restore old Europe by installing its rulers back to their throne.
- It redistributed and reconstituted most Italians states. Conservative regimes governed the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (combined Kingdom of Sicily and Naples), the Kingdom of Piedmont – Sardinia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, and the Papal States. Northern Italy’s control was returned to the Habsburg of the Austrian Empire.
THE ITALIAN REVOLTS
- As the Italian states remained fragmented, its citizens began to dream of a united Italy. They named these calls for unification Risorgimento.
- They formed secret societies to fight the old system of government. One of them was the Carbonari, a society inspired by the French Revolution that aimed to liberate Italy through armed uprisings.
- Many members of these societies were forced into exile, and some were persecuted for even attending meetings.
- Guiseppe Mazzini, a member of the Carbonari and creator of another group named Young Italy in 1831, was one of the most prominent figures that led to the Italian unification.
- 1848 was the year of revolutions, as numerous uprisings occurred throughout the Italian peninsula. These were mostly carried out by students and professionals, such as doctors and lawyers.
- The Five Days of Milan was five days of intense street fighting against the Austrian troops under the old marshall, Radetzky. It marked the beginning of the 1848 revolutions and resulted in the withdrawal of Austrians from the city.
- A Venetian patriot and Risorgimento leader in Venice, Daniele Manin, led a heroic defense in his home state against an Austrian siege.
- Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia, saw these revolutionary movements for unification and declared war against Austrians on March 23, 1848. This declaration started The First Italian War of Independence.
- However, there are theories among other Italians that the king of Sardinia took advantage of the situation because he planned to become the king of all of Italy.
THE FIRST WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
- On March 25, the Sardinian troops based in Piedmont led by the king of the Kingdom of Sardinia, Charles Albert, invaded the Austrian puppet state, Lombardy.
- Other Italian states held their own uprisings, and some sent volunteers to help the Sardinians.
- The Papal States, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany supported the war initially.
- The Austrians, led by Josef Radetzky, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, had organized the Austrian Army in Italy even before the war broke out.
- As the Piedmontese slowly advanced to the enemy’s territory, Radetzky retreated to the quadrilateral cities of Verona, Mantua, Legnago, and Peschiera.
- The Piedmontese took hold of the bridge at Monzambano to the north, which drove the Austrians to abandon the bank of Mincio and to withdraw to Verona on April 11.
- Radetzky occupied an advanced position on the west bank of the Adige at Pastrengo when Charles Albert attacked the Austrian line with his 14,000 Piedmontese against Redetzky’s 8,000 Austrians.
- The Austrians retreated to the Adige and attacked the center of the Piedmontese formation. Charles Albert’s troops successfully counter the Austrian’s offense.
- The Piedmontese claimed victory at Pastrengo on April 30, 1848, but they could not complete their plan to cross the Adige. It remained under Radetzky’s control.
- On April 29, 1848, Pope Pius IX declared the Papal States withdrawal of support to the war due to their fear of a schism with the Austrian Catholics.
- This decision affected the morale of the troops sent by the Papal States. However, they chose to ignore the decision and continued to fight.
- Charles Albert sought to push back the Austrians to Verona. He ignored the fact that the village had been skillfully fortified.
- On May 6, 1848, after their brief victory in Santa Lucia, Charles Albert ordered his troops to retreat when he received the news that the Piedmontese army’s attack on Croce Bianca and Chievo had failed.
- The Austrians returned to Santa Lucia and found that the Piedmontese army abandoned the village.
- Simultaneously, the Papal States’ troops clashed with the Austrians at the Battle of Cornuda. The State’s troops retreated due to a lack of reinforcements.
- In Naples, Ferdinand II had decided to withdraw from the war even before they encountered the enemy.
- The absence of the authentic Italian league, Pope Pius IX’s withdrawal from the war, and the need to reconquer Sicily (which had declared itself independent and become the Kingdom of Sicily) were all factors in this decision by the leader at Naples.
- The Tuscans and Neapolitans, who had not yet heard their king’s denouncement of support of the war, were stationed along River Mincio from Peschiera to Mantua.
- Radetzky’s troops crossed the Mincio and planned to attack Albert’s troops in Curtatone and Montanara, forcing the Tuscans and Neapolitans to retreat.
- Radetzky continued his offensive strategy in Goito and Perchierra but failed, as they could not overcome the Piedmontese counterattack.
- Charles Albert and his troops took Peschiera and were victorious at Goito on May 29, 1848.
- Redetzky countered this Italian win by attacking and reclaiming Vicenza in the Battle of Monte Berico on June 11, 1848.
- This was followed by the Battle of Governolo, a victory for the Savoyard forces, but it caused weakness in their resistance line.
- The Battle of Custoza on July 24 and 25, 1848, became the decisive battle in favor of the Austrians. The Piedmontese were unable to stop the Austrians from reclaiming the bridges over the Mincio River. This battle was the first major Austrian victory since the war started.
- King Charles Albert promised to withdraw all his troops from Lombardy on August 9, as the truce came into force.
- Despite the truce, small-scale campaigns continued to occur. They were led by nationalist leaders such as Garibaldi and Guiseppe Mazzini.
- After seven months, King Charles Albert broke the truce and declared war on Austria on March 20, 1849. This declaration resulted in a military action of the Austrians to Piedmont.
- A battle between the Italians and Austrians at Novara occurred on March 23, 1849. This battle was the last and bloodiest of the First Italian War of Independence.
First Italian War of Independence Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the First Italian War of Independence across 25 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use First Italian War of Independence worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the First Italian War of Independence which started on March 23, 1848, when King Charles Albert declared war against the Austrians. It ended when the same king broke the truce, resulting in Austria’s bloodiest attack at Piedmont on March 23, 1849.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- First Italian War of Independence Facts
- Leaders of the War
- The Year 1848
- What Went Wrong?
- Behind the Revolutions
- The First War Timeline
- The Awakening
- Fact or Bluff
- Italy Before the War
- The Italian War Chronicles
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