24 June 2016

Battle of Solferino

Suffering of soldiers led to the founding of the Red Cross

Painting by Carlo Bossoli of the Battle of Solferino
A scene from the Battle of Solferino painted by the
Swiss-born Italian artist Carlo Bossoli
The Battle of Solferino took place on this day in 1859 south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.

It was the last battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs.

The French army under Napoleon III was allied with the Sardinian army commanded by Victor Emmanuel II. Together, they were victorious against the Austrian army led by Emperor Franz Joseph I.

The battle lasted more than nine hours and resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.

The Austrians were forced to retreat and it was a crucial step towards the eventual unification of Italy under an Italian King.

Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman, toured the battlefield afterwards and was horrified by what he saw, joining in with the efforts of local people to care for the injured.

Greatly moved by the suffering of the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers, he wrote a book about what he had seen and set about establishing the International Red Cross.

This battle is also referred to as the Battle of Solferino and San Martino as there was fighting near both of the towns.

Travel tip:

Solferino is in the province of Mantua about ten kilometres south of Lake Garda. A chapel, the Cappella Ossuaria, behind the Church of San Pietro in Solferino, contains the remains of about 7000 soldiers. There is also a museum with weapons and memorabilia from the battle.

Photo of the harbour at Desenzano del Garda
The harbour at Desenzano del Garda
Travel tip:

San Martino della Battaglia, where the Austrians took a pounding from Victor Emanuel II’s troops, is close to the lovely resort of Desenzano del Garda, at the foot of Lake Garda. Desenzano is a good base for a holiday as a boat service links it with other pretty resorts on the lake, such as Sirmione, Bardolino and Peschiera.


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