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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.

Contents

The 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.

Left alone, Piedmont was defeated by the Austrians at Custoza and forced to accept an armistice on August 9.

The aftermath of the war was complex, but in general saw a return to the pre-existing status quo. In 1849 in Florence, Leopold II abandoned the town, which was ruled by a provisional government; but the Grand Duke later returned. In Rome, the Roman republic was declared (with Giuseppe Mazzini as one of the triumviri). Rome was attacked by French troops, and Giuseppe Garibaldi's forces, after a fierce restistance, had to surrender. the republic being abolished with the return of the pope. Venice, after an extraordinary long resistance, had also to surrender to the Austrians due to famine and a cholera epidemic.

The second independence war

Victor Emmanuel II in about 1861, from a photograph by the French photographer, André Adolphe Eugene Disderi

The second independence war, also known as Austro-Sardinian War, was declared by the Kingdom of Sardinia, in 1859, with the alliance of France.

In 1859 Emperor Napoleon III and Camillo Cavour, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia, signed a treaty of alliance against Austria: France would help Sardinia to fight against Austria and Sardinia, in return, would give Nice and Savoy to France. In the same year Austria started a war with Sardinia. French and Sardinian armies defeated the Austrians in the battles of Palestro (30 May), Montebello, Magenta (4 June) and Solferino (21 June) and took Milan. The German states, however, forced Napoleon to stop the war, and he signed an armistice with Austria at Villafranca. The Kingdom of Lombardy (Milan was its capital) was transferred to France, which gave it to Sardinia.

After the truce of Villafranca rebellions started in northern Italian states. Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany and duke Francis V of Modena escaped from their countries. People of Tuscany, Modena and Parma invited king Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia to rule over them. Napoleon III was afraid of being regarded as a supporter of a revolution, so he forced Victor Emmanuel to relinquish the power over those states; however, in 1860 Cavour convinced the emperor to change his mind. Tuscany, Modena, Bologna and Parma decided in a plebiscite to join Sardinia.

In 1860 the Kingdom of Two Sicilies was invaded by a volunteer army, known as I Mille, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi's and financed by Piedmont and United Kingdom. In the subsequent campaign he defeated the army of the Sicilian king, Ferdinand II, in the battles of Calatafimi and Volturno. In 1861 a plebiscite in Naples and on Sicily decided for unification to Sardinia. As a result, Victor Emmanuel was crowned king of Italy. Finally, the fortress of Gaeta was taken and Ferdinand II escaped to Rome, the only remaining land in Italy (together with Veneto) not part of the new kingdom.

The Third Independence war and the capture of Rome

The Third Independence War was declared by the new Kingdom of Italy against the Austrian Empire, in 1866, with the alliance of the Kingdom of Prussia.

In 1866 Italy signed alliance with Prussia against Austria. During the ensuing Austro-Prussian War, Archduke Albert of Austria defeated Italian forces in the battle of Custoza; however, thanks to Prussian victory over Austria, Italy was able to gain the Veneto in the peace that Austria and Italy signed in Vienna.

In 1870, when Prussia defeated the Second French Empire during the Franco-Prussian War, Italian forces took advantage of the homecoming of the French troops from Rome and overwhelmed what remained of the Papal States. Rome was captured on September 20, 1870, and subsequently became the capital of Italy.

See also

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