BR07 Solferino - The Battle of 3 Kings (24 June 1859)
The battle of Solferino was the final engagement in the 1859 campaign which led to the end of Austrian dominance in northern Italy. After the defeats of Palestro and Magenta the Austrians reorganised their army and Emperor Franz Josef took personal command of the army. Feldzeugmeister Count Wimpffen was given command of the 1st Army and General der Kavallerie Count Schlick was given 2nd Army. The reorganised army pulled back to the Mincio on 20-21 June 1859, while the Allies advanced slowly. The Piedmontese army made up the left wing of the Allied force, with the French in the centre and right.
As the Allies advanced towards the Mincio they expected the Austrians to try and defend the river. What they didn't realise was that Franz Josef and his staff had decided to launch a general advance to the west. The result of these respective misapprehensions was that the two armies unexpectedly ran into each other almost half way between the Chiese and the Mincio.
At the end of 23 June the Austrians had advanced to the positions they would occupy when the battle started. VIII Korps was on the right, at Pozzolengo. V Korps was next in line, at Solferino. I Korps was just to the south at Cavriana. First Army formed the Austrian left and was strung out from west to east, with IX Korps close to Medole, III Korps next at Guidizzolo and XI Korps a bit further to the south-east. The Austrians had around 130,000 men engaged at Solferino, with slightly more men on their left. The French had around 90,000 men at Solferino, the Piedmontese Army had around 40,000, for a total of 130,000, same of the Austrians: the two sides were very equally balanced.
The Allies moved east on the morning of 24 June. Four Piedmontese divisions were on the left, in the area between the ridge and Lake Garda. French First Corps (Baraguey) was in the centre, advancing along the ridge towards Solferino. II Corps (MacMahon) was to his right, heading for Cavriana. On the right IV Corps (Niel) was advancing from Medole towards Guidizzolo, with III Corps (Canrobert) following begin. The Imperial Guard was in reserve. Neither side had accurate information about the other’s troop position and movements, and on June 24 they unexpectedly clashed, in and around Solferino, four miles southeast of Castiglione delle Stiviere, at a time when the French expected to engage only the Austrian rear guard and the Austrians expected to engage only the French advance units. The battle developed in a confused big melee. The battle was nothing more than the addition of a series of furious fightings for the possession of a farm, a hilltop, a village without a general starting plane and with little coordination. Only the order to attack or counterattack several times it was repeated incessantly by both sides that day. It was a bloody battle because it was conducted with military maneuvers of the Napoleonic era, without regard to the devastating precision of the new rifled guns.
The overall course of the battle was quite simple. In the north the Piedmontese made a number of piecemeal attacks on the Austrians, each of which bloody failed. In the south the situation was reversed, and Niel held off a much larger Austrian force. The key part of the fight came in the centre, where after a day of hard fighting the French broke the Austrian centre around Solferino. The loss of Solferino village and the collapse of their centre meant that the Austrians had lost the battle.
In the north four Piedmontese divisions with nearly 39,000 men faced Benedek's VIII Korps and part of Stadion's V Korps, a total of 28,558 men. On 23 and 24 June Victor Emmanuel had his own head quarters at Lonato, while his staff officers were with Napoleon III at Montichiari. Two separate but rather similar battles developed - one at Madonna della Scoperta and one at San Martino. In each case the Austrians held a strong position based around buildings on a hill and the Piedmontese attacked piecemeal, each attack being repulsed. The Piedmontese wasted their numerical advantage and launched a series of uncoordinated attacks. Madonna della Scoperta was defended by two brigades from Stadion's V Korps. This was a similar position to San Martino, with the Austrians defending a hilltop settlement. First attacks were made by the Savoia Brigade failed, the position finally fell to the Granatieri Brigade, but by this time Stadion had begun to withdraw in response to the Austrian defeat at Solferino. San Martino was defended by Benedek's VIII Korps. Benedek was one of the best Austrian commanders and he was also helped by the piecemeal nature of the Piedmontese attacks, with brigades thrown in as they arrived. The attack, which started at 9am, began well and the Piedmontese captured the lower parts of the hill. They were then pushed off by an Austrian counterattack led by Brigade Berger. Austrians had gathered massed gun battery on the ridge. The advancing Italians were hit by case fire from thirty guns. Reinforcements were also expected from Fanti's 2nd Division, which sent Brigade Aosta. The Austrians were finally forced to retreat around sunset. Benedek had received orderes to retreat, and he was now faced with a five brigade attack, with Pinerolo and Aosta attacking in the centre, Cucchiari's men on the Italian left and the Piemonte brigade, coming from Madonna della Scoperta, the right.
The most intense fighting took place in the middle of the field, around Solferino. This battle fell into two parts, with MacMahon and Schaafsgottsche fighting a separate battle just to the south of the Solferino ridge.
Baraguey d'Hilliers' I corps left Castiglione at 3am. At around 5am his leading division ran into Stadion's outposts on the heights west of Solferino. Ladmirault's Division, aided by Florey on his right, pushed the Austrians back to the ridges just to the west of Solferino. The Austrian Bils and Puchner Brigades held the French up just west of Solferino until around 10am, but were then forced back into the village. The Austrians now held Monte di Cipressi (the buildings on the top of the hill west of Solferino) and the cemetery on the lower ground to the north. Stadion also had a brigade deployed to the north.
Baraguey d'Hilliers' was an impatient commander, and committed his men before their artillery had arrived. A series of French attacks were repulsed at great cost. While these attacks were being repulsed the French artillery reached the battlefield. The French finally made a properly organised attack with good artillery support at around 2pm, and this time both the cemetery and the high ground was captured. By 2.30 Stadion's men were retreating.
MacMahon's II Corps also began to move at 3am, moving parallel to Baraguey d'Hilliers. At around 2pm MacMahon went onto the offensive, capturing San Cassiano, south of Solferino. They were held up just to the south east by the Prinz von Hesse. Hesse was only forced to retreat after the Imperial Guard joined the offensive. By 2pm La Motterouge's division and Guiard cavalry break Austrian line, threatened HQ of 1st Army at Cavriana. The French advanced towards the 1st' Army's Headquarters at Cavriana. Hesse evacuated Cavriana at around 3.30pm, and the French captured the village at 4.30. The main fighting was ended by a heavy storm in the early evening, although the Austrians continued to suffer casualties as they came under fire from the new rifled French artillery.
In the South, as the Italians in San Martino's area, the Austrians wasted their numerical advantage and attacked piecemeal, allowing Niel to hold off much larger forces. The fighting began at Medole, where Niel's leading troops forced ten Austrian infantry companies and their supporting cavalry to retreat. The Austrian infantry pulled back to Rebecco at around 7am. As Niel advanced east from Medole he ran into elements from three Austrian corps. Niel was outnumbered by around two to one, but the Austrians failed to take advantage of their numerical advantage and didn’t launch a coordinated attack. Niel also made good use of his rifled artillery, forming a Grand Battery on his left flank, where it helped guard the gap between his corps and MacMahon.
By mid-afternoon the Austrian attacks had been fought off and Niel had finally received more reinforcements from Canrobert. At the same time Solferino had fallen and the Austrian centre was in retreat. Franz Josef ordered Graf Wimpffen, the commander of First Army, to launch an attack north into the flank of the advancing French. Just as Wimpffen was preparing for this attack Niel launched an attack on his positions around Guidizzolo. Although this attack failed, it did disrupt Wimpffen's preparations and the Austrian counterattack never materialised. Soon after this the storm broke over the southern part of the battlefield, ending the battle.
When night fell, the battlefield was strewn with more than 6,000 dead and 40,000 wounded. A Swiss businessman, Jean-Henri Dunant was shocked by the terrible aftermath of the battle, the suffering of the wounded soldiers, and the near-total lack of medical attendance and basic care. He succeeded in organizing an overwhelming level of relief assistance by motivating the local villagers to aid without discrimination. After this experience he decided to found the Internationa Red Cross.
The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.
- Rickard, J (11 February 2013), Battle of Solferino, 24 June 1859 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_solferino.html
- Marco Scardigli, Le grandi battaglie del Risorgimento, Milano 2010
Kaiser Franz Josef
Command Cards - 5
Napoleon the Third / King Vittorio Emanuele II
Command Cards - 6
8 Banners but 2 flags must be towns/villages hexes as temporany medal victories (so Austrian player starts with two victory flags).
The hexes grey bordered of San Martino, Solferino, Cavriana, Guidizzolo, Rebecco and Madonna della Scoperta are Temporary Medal Objectives for both players.
- The powerful French units with five miniatures at the bottom of French Army's side represent the divisions of the Imperial Guard: these infantry units can move two hexes but may not move and battle in the same turn. Player may use them only after his/her fourth "Draw a Command Card" phase.
- Solferino, San Martino and Cavriana hexes are hilltop villages: unit defending a hilltop village receive a double benefit.
- Cultivated areas don't block the line of sight.
- Repeated assaults by massed infantry for hours: to reproduce the prodigious amount of coordinated assaults on the formidable San Martino / Solferino / Cavriana strong positions in this scenario the "crossed-sword" dice result only scores one hit only if the attacking formation is adjacent to the enemy.