on 10 August 2011
Embree, Michael, Radetzky's Marches: the campaigns of 1848 and 1849 in Upper Italy. Solihull, 2010. ISBN 978 1 906033 24. Hardback. Price varies on source.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a frequent correspondent with the author of this book due to numerous common interests. We have no other connection and have not met, living as we do in different hemispheres. I have no financial interest in this book.
Michael Embree's book Radetzky's Marches will be the standard reference book for this once well-known but now largely neglected campaign and period. Hopefully, it will generate additional interest and research. This is a large narrative work (359 pages, with detailed appendices, maps, illustrations and an extensive index) that covers the campaigns of the Austrian army of Field Marshal Radeztky and his various Italian adversaries in great detail. The writing style is direct and clear and devoid of the hyperbole that seems to accompany much of the writing surrounding the 1848 period. There are several reasons for this, and they well reflect what the book is, and what it isn't.
My late academic advisor. John Gagliardo, once remarked to me that book critics tend to criticize the author for not writing the book that they--the critics---would have liked to have written if they had taken time and effort to do so. Therefore, I think it fair to measure a work by the author's intent, whether stated or implied. In his forward, Mr. Embree succinctly states that
This book focuses on the military campaigns for the control of Upper Italy
during 1848 and 1849, or more specifically, Piedmont, Lombardy-Venetia,
and the Tirol. Whilst there were clearly important links between the campaigns in Upper Italy and others in the rest of the Italian peninsula, and indeed throughout Europe, these will only be discussed in detail where the directly relate to these military campaigns.
Thus the student of the social underpinnings of revolution, industrialization, and nationalism that are so often the subject of research of this period will be disappointed; those seeking a detailed account of mid-19th century battle will be well-rewarded.
In terms of structure and approach, this work is mostly chronological, following the progress of developing campaigns almost day-by day. Actions involving a few companies in `outpost affairs' are given equal weight to the decisions of the top brass. A slight exception is the siege of Venice, which is given a semi-separate treatment. This bottom-up approach to narrative is the sort of thing that that often dooms a narrative history, but the accompanying maps allow you to follow the flow, and to see how the little activities relate to, and influence, the big picture. I wish this approach were taken more often in campaign history. It is clear and effective, and allows the reader to see that wars, campaigns, battles and outpost actions are not simply the product of a world view or "larger forces" to those that participate in them. The are the product of flux, misinformation, chance brilliance and stupidity. Charles Albert of Piedmont and Marshal Radetzky either could have won or lost these campaigns. As it was, the greater experience and coherence of the Marshal's forces, combined with one or two good decisions on his part triumphed the momentum, enthusiasm and poor decisions of the latter. Sometime the devil is indeed in the details.
A review of the 21-page bibliography is revealing. The great bulk of the sources are in German and Italian, and the bulk of those are the memoires of participants. Thus, Mr. Embree is well equipped to create both a `big picture' and `soldier's eye' view of situations. I found this to be illuminating. When reading of an outpost affair of some newly-minted Tuscan volunteers whose enthusiasm outstripped their skill, it is interesting and useful to see that even a handful of casualties could really shake them. The sources are both exhaustive and personal in their scope, and I think that this book does the researcher of this period a great service by bringing them all together. Command of a foreign language is impressive. Command to two is even more so. But to anyone who has had to decipher 19th Century German handwriting, this is an impressive feat indeed! Most readers are no doubt entirely unaware of that aspect. I finished the book with a much-altered opinion on how battles of this era were fought.
I do have some criticisms, though. I would have liked to have seen the author step from behind the purple curtain more frequently to render an opinion or critique of the decisions made and their result. He does it on occasion, such as when he asks why no one considered appointing the young-but-talented Duke of Genoa to the role of commander of the Piedmontese forces when the war was renewed in 1849, in lieu of the Pole, Lt. Gen. Chrzanowski. Along the same vein, I would loved to have read a strong and opinionated conclusion. But then again, I point to the words of my late advisor.
I strongly recommend this work to anyone interested in the period.
Dr. Mitchell D. Allen
New Hampshire, USA
on 25 October 2013
In 1847, the great Austrian statesman Prince Klemens von Metternich famously described Italy as merely a "geographic expression". This dismissive epithet would be sorely put to the test within in a year as Italy, along with much of Europe, erupted into revolution. The targets of the revolt for the most part were the reactionary right wing monarchies of Austria and Prussia and the wobbly Orleans throne in France. Austria was the hardest hit with nationalist uprisings taking place against its rule in Bohemia, Hungary and Northern Italy. It was in the latter that the insurrection had been most predictable especially since the nation of Sardinia had taken up arms alongside the rebels. Over the next two years, Austria would push back the revolt, often with appalling barbarity but there is no doubt that they were successful largely due to the genius of a single man, Field-Marshall Joseph Radetzky.
In his book, Radetzky's Marches, Michael Embree focuses on the campaign conducted by the eighty-two year old Field-Marshall which took place in Lombardy and Venetia. With painstaking detail he chronicles the events in each theatre describing each battle and action from every aspect leading the reader clearly through the events that took place. The forces of each side are examined closely, revealing the units involved and the weapons and tactics they used. His account is reinforced by numerous contemporary accounts and letters by the participants on all sides. The maps are particularly informative, an important feature often overlooked in many military histories. Finally, he provides numerous appendices with Orders of Battle and a magnificent bibliography.
For the serious student of the 1848 Revolution, this book is a must. There are few accounts of this campaign in English and with the renewed interest in the events of this period this is a valuable addition to its historiography.
on 3 May 2011
Mike Embree has done an excellent job of unearthing German and Italian source material to provide a work that does justice to the military aspects of this conflict. The social and political events of Europe's Year of Revolutions (currently being dramatically replayed in the Arab Spring) have largely overshadowed this subject. Unlike Alan Sked's recent release on Radetzky's career, this work allows the reader to make a more robust judgement of the great man's accomplishments. Although there is enough detail to keep the enthusiast satisfied, the narrative does not suffer as a result. Therefore. both general and military historians should find the material interesting and informative. The title notwithstanding, the account is a balanced one, highlighting the military and political difficulties faced by both sides as well as their failures and triumphs.
on 27 May 2014
This work includes all that you need to know about Radetzkys campaigns in north Italy in the 1848-49 1st war of Italian independence from a military perspective. Several detailed black and white maps and more than a dozen of order of battles are included, from Corps to battallions and batteries. Very well documented. It covers both the campaigns and the organizations of the armies from Austria, Piamonte, Venetia, Tuscany and the expeditionary forces of Naples and Papal States. Later campaigns in Rome between republican forces and french ones are not covered.
on 29 July 2011
In his opus Mr Embree gives a very detailed account of the campaign - the book is not limited to the major clashes but examines all the minor fights (some not bigger than skirmishes!) that took place even in secondary theatres. I have been a wargamer for almost thirty years, and it has been a delight to see most actions analyzed at or below the regimental scale!
On the other hand, I was concerned at first with what I had perceived as a pro-Radetzky bias from the title and the back cover - I was wrong. The narrative is impartial, even if (in my opinion) the author's admiration for the Radetzky's resolve transpires here and there early in the text. Being born and living in a town where the FML is rememberedless than affectionately, to put it mildly, for his enthusiastic recourse to the gallows, I would have indeed had a problem with that.
But Mr Embree takes no sides while he discusses the battles and the development of the campaign. He does criticize the Piedmontese high command at times, but it is almost impossible not to do so, as they committed a myriad of bluders that cost us the war. But several episodes of valor involving Italian troops are given their due room in the book. Mr Embree underlines the professionalism of the Austrian army - but it is a technical assessment, and I find nothing wrong with that.
The book is completed by plenty of maps; those for the smaller engagements in B&W interspersed in the text, and color illustrations for the major battles of Custoza and Novara in a center section. I would have wished for even more detail with the various episodes of the battles illustrated. And the last good third of the book comes with an added bonus - a cornucopia of very detailed orders of battle. One can't really ask for more.
In short, this is either the definitive account of the 1848 campaign, or it comes very close. If you have even a passing interest in the history of the Risorgimento, this is a can't-miss title. I wish there were more books like this one available on our other wars. Hopefully Mr Embree will go on to cover this void?