Book Review of The Second War of Italian Unification, 1859-61

Frederick C. Schneid. The Second War of Italian Unification, 1859-61. Essential Histories series. Botley, England: Osprey, 2012. ISBN 978-1-84908-787-2. Chronology. Illustrations. Maps. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 96. $20.95.

There are too few studies on the four Wars of Italian Unification in the English language.  Dr Frederick C. Schneid, Professor of History at High Point University in North Carolina, is one historian that is attempting to correct this void in historiography.  He provides a concise study of the Second War of Italian Unification (1859-1861) in Osprey’s Essential Histories series.  Schneid is known for Soldiers of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy: Army, State, and Society, 1800-1815 (1995), Napoleon’s Italian Campaigns, 1805-1815 (2002), Napoleon’s Conquest of Europe: The War of the Third Coalition (2005), and more recently Napoleonic Wars (2012).  He is also an editor of Warfare in Europe, 1792-1815 (2007), Conscription in the Napoleonic Era: A Revolution in Military Affairs? (2009), European Politics 1815-1848 (2011), and The Projection and Limitations of Imperial Powers, 1618-1850 (2012).

In this study, Schneid discusses Italian politics and the origins of the Wars of Italian Unification from the downfall of Napoleon in 1815, including the First War of Italian Unification (1848-1849), to the outbreak of the second conflict in 1859.  The author examines the Italian kingdoms of Piedmont-Sardinia and the Two Sicilies, France, and Austria, as well as Prime Minister Camillo di Cavour of Piedmont-Sardinia and Napoleon III of France’s secret planning at Plombières (1858) for a war to force Austria out of northern Italy.

Once setting the scene, the author provides detailed coverage of Franco-Piedmontese military operations against Austria in the Second War of Italian Unification.  He divides the war into three phases: the defensive phase (24 April to 12 May), the offensive phase (12 May  to 24 June), and the Armistice of Villafranca (25 June to 11 July 1859).  Schneid depicts the battles of Magenta (4 June), Solferino (24 June), and San Martino (24 June) that led to a truce and then the Preliminary Peace of Villafranca.  This marked the end of the war against Austria, with Piedmont-Sardinia gaining Lombardy from Austria, and France acquiring Nice and Savoy from Piedmont-Sardinia.

At this point, Giuseppe Garibaldi, a revolutionary allied to Piedmont-Sardinia, launched his campaign against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860.  He vowed to conquer the Two Sicilies for Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia.  Schneid examines the military operations of Garibaldi against the Two Sicilies, including the battle of Calatafimi (15 May), capture of Palermo (with British intervention), and the battle of Milazzo (19 July) on the island of Sicily.  Garibaldi’s forces then crossed the Straits of Messina and took on the Neapolitan army, while Piedmontese troops crossed into the Papal States, defeating the Papal army at the battle of Castelfidardo (18 September).  The Piedmont army besieged and captured of Ancona (29 September) while Garibaldi narrowly defeated Neapolitan forces at Volturno (1 October).  The Piedmontese army began the siege of the Neapolitan seaport city of Gaeta in November, and finally captured it February 1861.  The Second War of Italian Unification was over — with the King of Piedmont-Sardinia being proclaimed as King Victor Emmanuel I of Italy by the new Italian Parliament.  Italy was united, with the exception of Rome and Venetia.  That would have to wait for the Third and Fourth Wars of Italian Unification (1866, 1870).

This is a valuable, brief study of the Second War of Italian Unification.  It adds to other studies on the conflict, including Patrick Turnbull’s Solferino: The Birth of a Nation (1985), Arnold Blumberg’s A Carefully Planned Accident: The Italian War of 1859 (1990) and Frank Coppa’s The Origins of the Italian Wars of Independence (1992).  It leaves this reviewer anxiously waiting for the promised release of Schneid’s next work, a detailed study of the Wars of the Risorgimento covering the Second War of Italian Unification, planned for publication in 2013.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota


About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
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