Frank Leward: Memorials
Same to the Same
Same to the Same.
Dear old Bam.Here I am and its all over for the present but I suppose I must begin at the beginning. We were pretty nearly smashed up at Brescia or rather near what they call the tre ponti by there after I wrote last. One of these Ponti is Bettoletto Garibaldi marched off there and I with him on the 15th of last month an awfully hot dusty morning and about eight in the morning we came on the enemy who were all about the place and drove them over the river the Chiese and held it although they were much stronger we kept them off. Col Türr an' Hungarian who hates the Austrians like sin had been sent with a lot more of our men to Rezzato a few miles from Brescia on the road to Preschiera and a battalion of Austrians came at them but Türr sent them page 290off and was so excited he followed them up too far and fell into a sort of ambuscade they had waiting for him and he got awfully cut up. However he managed to keep the enemy at bay for some time. Castenodolo the place was called I think Türr lost a heap of men. The Italian army wasnt far off and the King sent a message to Garibabdi to keep firm in the position he occupied and hed come directly. But what position was the question considering we were trying to hold two and couldnt keep either much longer. The General was in an awful stew I wanted him to let me go off to tell the King how we were placed but he sent his son Menotti and made me go with him to Castenodolo. On the way we met Türr badly wounded in an ambulance he was very bad but tried to sit up and sang out viva Italia then we met a lot more wounded being carried off Bronzetti an awfully fine fellow among them—one poor beggar awfully badly hit when he saw the general coming called out feebly viva Gari and died before he could finish it. The General was in a rage for all that when he saw a part of his Cacciatori were retreating but just then up came General Cialdini with a lot of regulars and brought us off safely.
On June 17th I had to go with Major Bixio to Salo on the Lago di Garda an awfully pretty lake and next day the General came and was splendidly received there. On the 19th a steamer full of Austrians came up and we opened suddenly on them and smashed the steamer and the Austrians retired to the Mincio. Garibaldi was awfully anxious to follow them up and drive them over the river and right out of Italy altogether but we got page 291orders from Cialdini to go up and occupy the Valtellina to stop the enemy coming over the Stelvio pass from the Tyrolese side. It was reported the enemy had got 30,000 troops there. We had to set off on the 24th, and after a lot more tremendous marching we got through to Sondrio and to the Ponte del Diavolo as they call it on this side its the Teufels Brücke on the other. On the 27th I went on with Bixio and Col. Medici to hold the Alta Valtellina with 1200 Cacciatori against 7000 of the enemy at least. We had small skirmishes with them every day and now and then a few of them would come within shot of our outposts near S. Antonio. A lot of them went down to Bormio to levy contributions and the people sent to Medici and he went to Bormio with as many as we could spare and the enemy retired without striking a blow. It seems strange we should be able to keep them off like that with much smaller numbers and our men not properly armed while they are but you must remember we are fighting for liberty with tremendous go while I suppose the Austrians dont care very much about it and a lot of them are Italian speaking people and their sympathies are with us rather than against. At Magenta they say when they had to charge the French a lot of Italians who had been put in the front rank deliberately laid down and let the French fire at the men behind. The Austrians are good soldiers but you cant expect them to do much under such circumstances.
As soon as we entered Bormio the Town declared for Victor Emanuele. The enemy was close by at the Bagni nuovi and might easily have come down on Bormio which page 292wasnt defended on that side at all. So the few engineers we had set to work to throw up some defences and the school boys had to come to help and worked like anything. At another place near there I forget the name the priest turned out with all his people to make fortifications and Medici who isnt very fond of priests awfully prejudiced against them had to thank him publicly for setting such an example. Then the enemy went off to the Bagni Vecchi smashing the bridge after them.
The general got to Bormio on the 3rd and I saw him going about with the priest of the place to see the fortifications and have all the enemys strong positions pointed out to him. It was plucky of the priest because they had been under the Austrians so long and not far off in the Tyrol they are all for Austria and we cant be here long to protect them. He had his breviary in his hand with his fingers between the leaves just like Don Abondio is described in the Promessi sposi.
We swarmed out in different directions all over the place. Our army partly made up of boys from fourteen to sixteen some in very ragged dress and some without shirts on or shoes. Garibaldi is awfully fond of his adolescenti as he calls them and says he did more with his boys at Rome in 49 than with the men. He held a grand review of our troops at Bormio it was rum to see our ranks boys without any uniform and in all manner of different dresses and he made them an awfully good rough sort of speech telling them of the necessity of discipline and all that. They are honest hardy good sort of boys and awfully attentive at church. I used to go page 293with them on Sunday because the others wouldnt although I dont understand their religion. Most of the officers wont thats the worst of them. I say its all very well freeing them from the cruelty of the Austrians but if its only to give them up to the devil I dont see what good you do. I told the General so once he only laughed and said all the English were afraid of the devil. It was fearfully cold up there in some parts thick with snow. Bixio got up on a tremendous high rock about the highest point commanding the road to Stelvio.
Its the most rugged country as silent as the tomb and nothing seems alive but the eagles it looks awfully grand and solemn. We were some time making fortifications so as to make it as safe as we could from the enemy lots of the adolescenti working in the snow without shoes. I was sent on with the best shod to Sponda Lunga to see where the enemy was and we were pretty warmly received with cannon shot and nearly got into a mess but Bixio came up round by the left of the enemy and took their attention off us and got on to a splendid position. That was on the 7th I think and next day a lot of Austrian Tyrolese Carabinieri splendid shots came up but we went at them with the bayonet all along their line and I dont know who would have got the best of it when an Austrian officer came over to us with a flag of truce to say an armistice had been signed between the Emperor of Austria and the French Emperor and Victor Emanuel.
By Jove what a rage we were in cursing and swearing not at the Austrians now but at the French. They all page 294say its the French who did it. Napoleon never liked Garibaldi and I dont believe he ever really wished to turn the Austrians out of Italy altogether only to get a little glory and something for his army to do. He nearly got licked over it as it was at Magenta. They say he was pale with funk there. I believe myself he got us sent up to the North to get us out of the way while he was making overtures for peace.
So we had to retire from the Stelvio pass by what they call the horror of Bormio a sort of great rent in the rocks the road is over 8000 feet high they say the highest road in Europe it goes in zigzags through long galleries to keep the snow off and at last I got here up at the North end of the Lago d'Iseo and found the General ill in bed reading Caesars commentaries. It was the peace made him ill more than all hes gone through since we left Cuneo in May.
The King received him well at Bergamo they say but I dont trust that King. He owes a lot to Garibaldi but I dont fancy he cares much about him. With the people the General is more an idol than ever. He has asked me to go with him to Tuscany where they are going to look after things so I suppose we shall start soon. When I said good-bye to Bixio he said we shall meet again soon and every one seems to think there will be/more fighting before long.
Its been hard work but now its over I feel sorry. When it was fine it was very jolly marching through the fine country especially by the Adda. The country there is awfully rich with splendid chesnut trees and a lot of page 295others and a tremendous lot of wild flowers by the river side. I never saw anything like it I think except at St. Helena. The villages used to turn out to welcome us and when we camped for the night the people brought us food and wine and cigars. Then we used to go foraging about the big farms for eggs and poultry and things so we werent badly off on the whole.—Good-bye old man I'll try to write again from Tuscany. Yours