THE FIELD OF WAR IN ITALY.
HE Italian campaign has opened with a resolute advance and a sharp defeat to the Italians, which has shown what excellent
stuff they are made of, and brought vividly before the minds of men the formidable task they have undertaken. We are still without details of the great action of last Sunday, but enough has been told us from both sides to enable us to understand what has happened. We will therefore try to make it as plain to our readers as it is to us how it came to pass that the first attempt to deliver Venetia by strategy and force has proved to be such a marked failure.
The Austrian frontier in Italy has long been regarded as one of the best in Europe. Nature made it strong, and art has increased its natural strength tenfold. That natural strength lies in its comparative shortness, and in the accumulation of obstacles within its contracted lines. The whole length of the line to be defended, less than a hundred mike, lies between the southern end of the Lake of Garda and the extensive marshes at the mouth of the Po. Nor is this all. In the distance we have named there are very few points assailable, and consequently the defenders are able to concen- trate, instead of scattering their forces. Moreover, it is an angular frontier, that is to say, it has two fronts, one facing the west, the other the south, while the space within the angle is so small and the commitnications so good that the defenders can move from side to side faster than the assailants on the outer lines. The river Mincio forms the frontier from Peachier& to Mantua, that is, the western face ; the river Po forms the frontier from a little below Mantua to the Adriatic. The Mincio may be crossed at several points with ease, but the Po is broad and deep, and there are not many points where an army can cross. Thus the Lake of Garda covers the right of the line, and the Po with its marshes protects the left. Peschiera, seated astride of the Mincio, gives those who possess it access to the western bank, and Mantua in like manner commands roads leading both west and south. But it is the second line, and especially one place on that line, Verona, which constitutes the real strength of the position. The river Adige, rushing out of the Tyrol, runs in a coarse parallel to the Mincio, but instead of falling into the Po pours, through a chan- nel of its own making, the volume of its waters to the sea. Verona, the -centre of an entrenched camp, sits across the Adige, at the mouth of the pass, and a few miles lower down Legnago, a lesser work, also commands the river. Below Legaago the rivers and canals, interlaced, work their way through the marshes to the sea. It will therefore be observed that an assailant who crosses the Muck) from the west finds himself in the midst of a comparatively small square, with a foe on every side except that by which he entered. This formidable position is tied to the Austrian capital by a double line of communications. One road, passing through Verona, ascends the left bank of the Adige, and crosses the Tyrol to the valley of the Inn. A second road, passing through Verona, leads by Venice and Vicenza to Trieste. The route up the Adige and the route by Venice to Trieste is by railway. Within the Quadrilateral railways from Mantua and Peschiera centre in Verona, and then branch out to the northward as far as Botzen, and the eastward as far as Vienna. The great mountain ranges of the Tyrol, passable for armies at only few points, enfold the northern lino, while the eastern line is protected by the Adriatic. Venice, the most accessible point on the coast, is cut off from the main land by a strong fort, through which runs the railway into the city, and consequently no troops could make an attack from Venice until they had captured this. work, known as Fort Malaghera. The reader will thus see that the least vulnerable part of this territory is the front on the line from Peschiera to the mouths of the Po, and that the tempting parts, where it looks weaker, are the long lines of communication. But a glance at the map will show how difficult it would be to get upon these lines, and how much more difficult it would be to stay there. To reach the northern line the assailant must carry a strong force over mountain passes and paths, and engage in warfare of the most intricate kind. To reach the eastern line he must make a lodgment on the coast and have his base on the sea. If neither of these plans be adopted, the assailant must break by main force through the Square, or push across the Po and establish himself between Legnago and Venice. To adopt all the plans of attack at once would require enormous forces, and even then the detachments would run the risk of being defeated in detail, because the defenders, having a central position and such powerful supports in their fort- resses, could afford to use the bulk of their forces offensively in one direction, and defensively on the other points.
If the reader have followed us so far on the map he will have some idea of the magnitude of the task undertaken by the Italians. The nature of the frontier compelled them to divide their forces into two parts, because, whether they intended to attack by the Mincio or not, they could not leave the road from Ferrara to Bologna unguarded. Their active army consisted of four corps, each probably between 30,000 and 40,000 strong, and a mass of volunteers, numbers uncertain. Three of these corps d'arme'e, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, commanded respectively by Durand°, Cucchiari, and Della Rocca, the whole under the King and La Marmora, were collected on the left bank of the Po, that is, facing the western front of the Quadrilateral. Their base of operations, that is, the line on which they were dependent for supplies, was that between Milan and Cremona. Consequently their advance on the Mincio was by the road from Milan through Brescia towards Goito and Peschiera, and the road from Cremona towards Mantua, by Marcaria and :Isola. Thus the three corps moved by converging roads upon the space between the Mincio and Oglio, and concentrated for attack round about the Solferino battle-field and to the south of it. The 4th corps, strengthened to the utmost, and commanded by Cialdini, was directed on Ferrara, having Bologna for its imme- diate base, and communicating with the King's army by the Emilian Way through Cremona. The volunteers in great part were brought up to the western front of Peschiera, but some of them were sent up to the north-western shore of Lake Idro and the western shore of Lake Garda, to look after the passes on that side.
The Italian plan of campaign appears to have been this. While the King crossed the Mincio and by main force established himself there, between Peschiera and Verona, Cialdini, profiting by this powerful movement, was to cross the Po at Polesella or Ponte Lagoscura, and do his best to get upon the railway from Verona to Venice, which he could only do at Padua. This movement depended for success entirely on the success of the King, for if the King were beaten Cialdini would not be able to stir from the Po, even should he cross it, because by moving on Padua he would expose his left flank and his line of retreat to an attack from Verona by Legnago. The object of the King was first and fore- most to invest Peschiera, and take up such a position as would, while covering his line of retreat, enable him to resist the whole Austrian army. It was essential as a first step to interpose between Verona and Peschiera, because so long as the Austrians had free access to the latter they had a short road to the King's main line of retreat upon Milan.
It was upon the 23rd of June that the Italian army crossed the Mincio in several columns. The left approached close to Peschiera, the right extended as far as Goito, where the great road crosses the river. Still further to the right a detachment was sent to Curta- tone, on the causeway leading along the southern bank of the upper Mantuan lake into Mantua. This was done to prevent the garri- son of Mantua from interrupting the communications of the army with Cremona. From left to right the main passages of the river were at Salionze, Monzambano, Valeggio, and Goito, and thus a force mustering perhaps 80,000 men of all arms stood within the Quadrilateral, on the roads leading from the river and from Mantua to Verona. The extreme left moved towards the hilly region about Somme Campagna, the left centre upon Custozza, the right centre and right by the road from Roverbella to Villa- franca. In other words, the Italian army advanced in a rough echelon, left in front, in a north-easterly direction towards Verona and the mouth of the valley of the Adige, having in their left rear the passages by which they crossed the
Mincio. Now, as the Austrian army, caring little for the threatened movement of Cialdini, was concentrated in and around Verona, a glance at the map will show that by simply moving out of their strongholds and forming to the left by Soma and San Giustina they would be, when frouted south, on the flank of the Italian line of advance, and able to throw the bulk of their forces on the head of the echelon. This is exactly what the Archduke did. He brought up his right, and fell heavily upon the left of Durando. This he was able to do because Verona effectually covered his left flank, and that flank beside; was farthest from the only force which could assail it. Considering how they were ex- posed to the onsets of the concentrated Austrian army, the troops under Durando must have behaved with the greatest gallantry. They withstood the Austrians both at Somma Carnpagna and Custozza with striking tenacity. It was by no default of valour on their part that they were compelled to yield. The very Austrian despatches prove it, and if the Austrians deserve praise for bravery and endurance, some of that praise must fall to the share of the troops who extorted such efforts from them. The battle was lost for the reason that so many battles are lost, the Italians were in a defective tactical posi- tion, a position in which one-half the army could only look on and give no help. For the Archduke evidently pressed his advantage to the utmost, and so pressing it ruined the Italian right wing.
At nightfall on Sunday the Italian army was still on the left bank of the Mincio, but the enemy had won such a masterful position that retreat became inevitable. The Archduke might, had they remained, have renewed the engagement, still retaining his advantage by pushing forward his own right and refusing his left, or he might have crossed the river and marched upon the Milan road, a movement which must have thrown the Italians upon Cremona, or at least behind the Oglio. Therefore General La Marmora did well to regain full command of the Milan road by recrossing the river and placing his army between Goito and Pozzolengo. The Austrians moved down to the river and occu- pied the passages between Peschiera and Goito, but for some time the Italians held the latter. Under these circumstances Cialdini did only his duty in not crossing the Po. Clearly prudence dic- tated that he should shorten his line of communication with the King, and we are not surprised to see a report that he has fallen back to Bologna.
Thus ends the first act of the campaign. We have said nothing of losses, for we have no authentic news of them, but they must have been heavy on both sides, as the fighting was protracted and tolerably close. The report that the Italian army is to be concentrated at Cremona and Piacenza must be confirmed and elucidated before it can be understood. If France is about to join in the war we could understand it, for then the French Emperor would naturally desire that the Italians should take up a safe defensive position until he could bring his legions to their side.