The Franco-Austrian War of 1859 was one of the most significant conflicts of the nineteenth century. Technologically it saw the first large-scale use of railways, which enabled the French to deploy a large army in northern Italy on only two weeks, and the first use of rifled artillery on the battlefield. Politically it was a key step towards to unification of Italy, while the weakness of Austria, revealed at Solferino, was to play a key part in the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. Despite its significance Solferino is now overshadowed by the American Civil War, where the railroad and rifled artillery again played a major role, and by the Franco-Prussian War, which ended Napoleon III's reign only a decade after his greatest triumph.
This is a very well structured book, looking in turn at the opposing commanders, forces and plans before turning to the campaign itself. The result is a self-contained account of the central events of the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, which saw the French and Piedmontese outmanoeuvre the Austrians on the Po plains, before winning the decisive battle around Solferino, just to the south of Lake Garda.
The text is support by excellent maps of the campaign, its early battles, the approach to Solferino and three maps of separate sections of the battle itself. At first glance the book lacks an overview map, showing the entire battle, but this role is actually filled by the map showing the approach to contact, which places the three separate segments of the battle in their context (some indication of which of the later maps belongs where might have been useful). The text is supported by a good selection of contemporary illustrations of the campaign, and by three modern full colour two-page wide paintings each of benefits from have a quarter size key on the following page to identify important aspects of the picture.
As one of the pivotal battles of the Nineteenth Century Solferino deserves to be better known in the English speaking world, and this single volume history will be of value to anyone with an interest in nineteenth century warfare.
The Solferino Campaign
After the Battle
The Battlefields Today
Author: Richard Brooks