Combat of Laveno, 30 May 1859

The combat of Laveno (30 May 1859) was a rare defeat for Garibaldi during his Alpine Campaign of 1859 and saw him fail to take an Austrian stronghold on Lake Maggiore.

Garibaldi’s campaign began on 22-23 May 1859 when he crossed the Ticinio River three miles south of Lake Maggiore. He occupied Varese, and defeated an Austrian army that attempted to recapture the city (battle of Varese, 26 May 1859). He then advanced east towards Como, capturing it after pushing the Austrians off a pass overlooking the town from the west (battle of San Fermo, 27 May 1859). Garibaldi’s arrival triggered revolts in the area, and the Austrian steam ships on Lake Como were captured by the rebels.

The same wasn’t the case on Lake Maggiore, where the steamships remained in Austrian hands, and operated from a base at Laveno, a port about a third of the way up the eastern shore of the lake. Garibaldi realised that he was dangerously exposed at Como, which could be reinforced easily from the main Austrian base at Milan. He decided to return west and attempt to capture Laveno, in the hope that this would give him control of Lake Maggiore.

Laveno was defended by a fort that was held by 590 Austrians, supported by the guns of the steamboats on the lake. Garibaldi decided to launch a surprise attack on this fort on the night of 30 May, but one of his columns got lost and the surprise failed.

On the following morning Garibaldi’s position appeared to get worse, when he learnt that the Austrians had retaken Varese. Luckily for Garibaldi the setback at Laveno took place as the far greater Austrian repulse at Palestro. Urban was ordered to move back towards the main Austrian army, reducing the pressure on Garibaldi. A few days later the French won a major victory at Magenta (4 June 1859) and the Austrians withdrew east towards their defensive stronghold, the Quadrilateral. Garibaldi advanced east on the northern flank of the Austrian army, repelling an Austrian attack on his rear guard at Tre Ponti (15 June 1859), before being moved to a secondary theatre before the end of the war.

The Second War of Italian Unification 1859-61, Frederick C. Schneid. Focuses on the three separate conflicts that made up the Second War of Italian Unification (the Franco-Austrian War, Garibaldi's invasion of the kingdom of Naples and the invasion of the Papal State), the conflict that saw the creation of the Kingdom of Italy. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 January 2013), Combat of Laveno, 30 May 1859 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_laveno.html

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