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The Five Days of Milan

The Five Days of Milan. Five days (March 18-22, 1848) of intense street fighting in Milanbetween the rebelling Milanese population and Austrian troops under the old marshal, Radetzky marked the beginning of the 1848 revolutions in northern Italy and resulted in the Austrian withdrawal from the city.

Tension between the Austrian administration and the Milanese citizens was mounting for several months prior to the insurrection. In September 1847 the police shot at a crowd that was honoring the new archbishop of Milan, Romilli, and singing hymns on behalf of Pope Pius IX, leaving one dead and sixty wounded. In January 1848 the Milanese stopped using tobacco, an important source of revenue for the state. Radetzky ordered his soldiers to smoke large cigars in the street, a provocative move that led to clashes with the local population and left six dead and fifty injured.

News of the revolution in Vienna and the dismissal of Metternich reached Milan on March 17, generating a lot of political excitement and hopes. A group of young radical republicans decided to organize a large demonstration demanding free press, the establishment of a civilian guard and the convocation of a national assembly. On March 18 a crowd of 10,000 people assembled, some of them armed, in front of the town hall and quickly invaded the government palace, killing a guard and forcing the Vice-governor O'Donell to accept their political demands, most importantly, the formation of a civilian guard. Radetzky ordered his troops to recapture the government buildings, and an intense combat ensued. The insurrection spread spontaneously throughout Milan; the insurgents erected hundreds of barricades, 1600 by the morning of March 19, in the narrow streets of Milan using carriages, pianos, and sofas, thus rendering the movement of the Austrian troops difficult. The combat was split into many isolated battles which was advantageous to the Milanese who were able to capture arms and ammunition from the enemy. While almost the entire Milanese society supported the revolt, the lower classes, artisans and workers, played the most significant role in the combat, suffering the bulk of the 409 Milanese dead.

The revolt brought into the open the political differences within the Milanese camp. On March 20 a republican group, led by Carlo Cattaneo and Enrico Cernuschi (the strategic brain of the insurrection), created a war council to coordinate and direct the military operations. This stimulated the conservative of Milan, Count Gabrio Casati, and other moderate aristocrats of Milan's municipality to establish a provisional government (March 22), thus assuming power and preventing the republicans from gaining the upper hand. In fact, earlier they were even ready to accept two truce proposals from Radetzky, but Cattaneo and the war council forced them to reject those proposals. Casati and his colleagues also sent representatives to Turin to convince Charles Albert, Piedmont's ruler, to intervene and not only to expel the Austrians out of Lombardy but also to check the radical elements and prevent them from proclaiming a republican democracy. With the formation of the provisional government, Cattaneo's group dissolved the war council, merging it to a new defense committee which the new government established. Clearly the republicans and democrats who led to a military victory were defeated politically by the moderate aristocrats and had to accept a subordinate position. The new defense committee brought the insurrection to a successful conclusion; on March 22 Radetzky ordered his troops to evacuate Milan.
Alexander Grab


G.F.H. Berkeley, Italy in the Making Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1940, III.

Giorgio Candeloro, Storia dell'Italia moderna. La rivoluzione nazionale Milan, Feltrinelli, 1975, III.

Carlo Cattaneo. L'insurrezione di Milano nel 1848 Milan: Feltrinelli, 1975.

Antonio Monti. Il 1848 e le cinque giornate di Milano. Milan: Hoepli, 1948.

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