Wars of Italian Independence

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The Wars of Italian Independence were three wars fought between Italian states and the Austrian Empire between 1848 and 1866, ending with the conquest of the entire Italian peninsula. An important aspect of Italian unification (Risorgimento), related minor conflicts and campaigns (such as the campaigns of the 1860s) are usually considered part of the Wars of Italian Independence.

The unification of Italy was partly completed by the conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand in 1860.


First Independence War

In 1848, revolutionary riots broke out in numerous places of Italy, as well in many other parts of Europe. Charles Albert in Piedmont and Leopold II in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany had been forced to make concessions to the democrats. When Vienna was also in revolt, both Milan and Venice, the main cities of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia under Austrian rule, revolted. Sicily, apart Messina, expelled the Bourbon armies. Charles II of Bourbon also was compelled to leave the Duchy of Parma.

The Kingdom of Sardinia decided to exploit the apparently favourable moment, and declared war on Austria, with the alliance of the Papal States and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Italian independence leaders like Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini returned to Italy to take part in the events, but were rather coldly welcomed by the House of Savoy, who aimed to maintain a moderate and pro-governative character to the war.

The Piedmontese army was composed of two corps and a reserve division, for a total of 12,000 troops. Artillery and cavalry were the best units. On March 21 the Grand Duke of Tuscany also declared his entrance in the war against Austria, with a contingent of 6,700 men. The Papal Army had a similar sized force, backed by numerous volunteers. On 25 the vanguard of the II Piedmontese Corps entered Milan; two days later Pavia was also freed.

After an initial successful campaign, with the victories at Goito and Peschiera del Garda, Pope Pius IX, fearing possible expansions of Piedmont in case of victory, recalled his troops. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies also retired, but the general Guglielmo Pepe refused to go back to Naples and went to Venice to protect it against the Austrian counter-offensive. King Ferdinand II's behavior was mainly due to the ambiguous conduct of Charles Albert of Piedmont, who had not clearly refused the proposal to obtain the Sicilian crown received from representatives of the rebellious island.

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