The battle of Solferino (24 June 1859)


The decisive clash of the war of Italian unification; the suffering of the wounded left without care was the inspiration for the founding of the Red Cross.

The battle of Solferino (24 June 1859) was the decisive episode in the struggle for Italian unification. The French, allied to the Sardinians, with Emperor Napoleon III at their head, faced the Austrian troops. The first exchange of gunfire took place shortly after three in the morning; by six o'clock the battle was in full swing; bright sunshine bore down on some 300,000 men who were slaughtering each other. In the afternoon, the Austrians abandoned their positions one by one; when night fell, the battlefield was strewn with more than 6,000 dead and 40,000 wounded.

The medical services of the French and Sardinian armies were overwhelmed: the French army had fewer doctors than veterinarians, transportation was non-existent and cases of bandages had been left behind. Those wounded who were able to do so headed for the nearest village -- Castiglione -- in search of a little food and water; 9,000 reached it, pouring into houses and barns, squares and narrow streets. In the church of Castiglione, the Chiesa Maggiore , Henry Dunant, helped by local women, cared for the wounded and dying for three days and three nights.
  A memory of Solferino by Henry Dunant




Battle of Solferino, 1859. Engraving.
© ICRC / hist-00056.jpg