Second Italian War of Independence

Second Italian War of Independence
Part of the wars of Italian unification
Napoléon III à la bataille de Solférino..jpg
Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino, by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier Oil on canvas, 1863
Date26 April – 12 July 1859
(2 months, 2 weeks and 2 days)
ResultAllied victory
Armistice of Villafranca (12 July 1859)
Sardinia annexed Lombardy from Austria.
Sardinia occupied and later annexed Habsburg-ruled Tuscany and Emilia.
France gains Savoy and Nice from Sardinia.
Second French Empire French Empire
Kingdom of Sardinia
Flag of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (1840).svg Tuscany
Flag of the Duchy of Parma (1851-1859).svg Parma
State Flag of the Duchy of Modena and Reggio (1830-1859).svg Modena & Reggio
Austrian Empire Austrian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Second French Empire Napoleon III
Victor Emmanuel II
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Austrian Empire Franz Josef I
Austrian Empire Ferenc Gyulay
Second French Empire 128,000
312 guns
90 guns[1]
824 guns
Casualties and losses
Second French Empire 5,498 killed
1,128 missing
17,054 wounded
2,040 disease related deaths
25,720 casualties
1,533 killed
1,268 missing[2]
12,568 killed[2]

The Second Italian War of Independence, also called the Austro-Sardinian War or Italian War of 1859 (Italian: Seconda guerra d'indipendenza italiana; French: Campagne d'Italie),[3] was fought by the French Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia against the Austrian Empire in 1859 and played a crucial part in the process of Italian unification.

The background to the war was the Plombières Agreement between France and Sardinia on 21 July 1858, in which they agreed to carve up Italy between them, and the Franco-Sardinian military alliance signed in January 1859. Sardinia mobilized its army on 9 March 1859, while Austria mobilized on 9 April. On 23 April, Austria delivered an ultimatum to Sardinia, demanding Sardinia's demobilization. Upon Sardinia's refusal, the war began on 26 April. Austria invaded the Kingdom of Sardinia on 29 April and France declared war on Austria on 3 May.

The Austrian invasion was stopped by the arrival of French troops in Piedmont from 25 April onward. The Austrians were defeated at the Battle of Magenta on 4 June and pushed back to Lombardy, where the Franco-Sardinian victory at the Battle of Solferino on 24 June resulted in the end of the war and the signing of the Armistice of Villafranca on 12 July.

Austria ceded Lombardy to France, which in turn gave it to Sardinia. Sardinia exploited the defeat of Austrian power by annexing the United Provinces of Central Italy, consisting of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, the Duchy of Modena and Reggio and the Papal Legations, to the Kingdom of Sardinia on 22 March 1860. Sardinia handed Savoy and Nice over to France at the Treaty of Turin on 24 March 1860.


The Piedmontese, following their defeat by Austria in the First Italian War of Independence, recognised their need for allies. That led Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, to attempt to establish relations with other European powers, partially through Piedmont's participation in the Crimean War. In the peace conference at Paris after the Crimean War, Cavour attempted to bring attention to efforts for Italian unification. He found Britain and France to be sympathetic but entirely unwilling to go against Austrian wishes, as any movement towards Italian independence would necessarily threaten Austria's territory of Lombardy–Venetia. Private talks between Napoleon III and Cavour after the conference identified Napoleon as the most likely, albeit still uncommitted, candidate for aiding Italy.

On 14 January 1858, Felice Orsini, an Italian, led an attempt on Napoleon III's life. The assassination attempt brought widespread sympathy for the Italian unification effort and had a profound effect on Napoleon III himself, who now was determined to help Piedmont against Austria to defuse the wider revolutionary activities that governments in Italy might later allow to happen. After a covert meeting at Plombières on 21 July 1858, Napoleon III and Cavour on 28 January 1859 signed a secret treaty of alliance against Austria: France would help Sardinia-Piedmont to fight against Austria if attacked, and Sardinia-Piedmont would then give Nice and Savoy to France in return. The secret alliance served both countries: it helped with the Sardinian (Piedmontese) plan of unification of the Italian peninsula under the House of Savoy, and it weakened Austria, a fiery adversary of Napoleon III's French Second Empire.

Cavour, being unable to get the French help unless the Austrians attacked first, provoked Vienna with a series of military maneuvers close to the border. Sardinia mobilized its army on 9 March 1859. Austria mobilized on 9 April 1859 and issued an ultimatum on 23 April, demanding the complete demobilization of the Sardinian army. When it was not heeded, Austria started a war with Sardinia on 26 April. The first French troops entered Piedmont on 25 April, and France declared war on Austria on 3 May.[4]