The battle of Vezza d’Oglio was fought on 4 July 1866 during the Third Italian War of Independence between Austrian military units, which had descended from the Passo del Tonale, and units from the Italian Volunteer Corps at the command of Giuseppe Garibaldi.

  • The war was between Italy, allied with Prussia, and Austria. At the beginning of the war, on 23 June 1866, the Italian army was deployed at the border in two main forces: the Mincio Army, under the command of Alfonso Lamarmora, and the Po Army, under the command of General Enrico Cialdini. Due to the fact that the two forces were too distant to support one another, and because of the rivalry between the two generals, the Italian army was defeated at Custoza on 23 June, while the naval fleet, under the command of Admiral Carlo Pellion di Persano, was defeated at Lissa on 20 July, with the loss the battleships Re d’Italia and Palestro.


    The defense of the alpine border between Lombardy and Trentino, then an Austrian possession, was entrusted to Garibaldi’s Corps of Italian Volunteers, which had the task of overseeing the principal transport routes, among them the Valli Giudicarie. Within this group was the better part of the volunteers under Garibaldi’s command who, in an attempt to reach Trent, seized the only Italian victory of the war at Bezzecca on 21 July. The Valle Camonica was for Austria the natural point of access to Italy, through the Passo del Tonale, but the Italians also feared Austrian attacks through the Valtellina, the Valsaviore, and the Passo di Crocedomini. As a result defense points were set up at Breno, Cedegolo, and past Edolo. The defense of the valley, already on alarm from the descent of Austrian mountain troops under the command of Ulysses von Albertini, was entrusted to the 4th Volunteer Regiment of Lieutenant Colonel Giovanni Cadolini.


  • The Lieutenant Colonel sent his 1st Volunteer Battalion from Bergamo, a unit under the command of Major Vincenzo Caldesi, which in the valley joined up with the 44th Battalion of the National Guard as well as a few dozen Carabinieri and Finanzieri. Caldesi took position at Incudine, where he entrenched himself and positioned two mountain cannons while sending a company and a half of the 1st Volunteer Battalion to Vezza d’Oglio as an advance guard under the command of Captain Antonio Malagrida. On 2 July Caldesi received, directly from Cadolini, the order to complete the operations of fortification. In case of an Austrian attack the advance guard should withdraw from Vezza d’Oglio.

    In the course of those same days, in response to partially unfounded information on the number of Austrian soldiers at Tonale, Garibaldi dispatched also the 2nd Volunteer Bersaglieri Battalion from Lonato to the Valle Camonica under the command of Major Nicostrato Castellini. They reached Caldesi’s troops on 3 July, at dawn. This last battalion was made up largely of volunteers who belonged to a shooting club in Milan, the “Carabinieri Milanesi”, and thus in light of their skills as sharpshooters had been enlisted with the title of Bersaglieri [Marksmen]. Castellini, who was under the orders of the older Caldesi, dispatched his command to Davena and deployed his four companies between Grano and the right bank of the Oglio river. Hence on 3 July the Italian forces were arranged as follows: the 1st Volunteer Battalion before Incudine, with the exception of the company at Vezza d’Oglio and the half company at Grano; the 2nd Bersaglieri Volunteer Battalion between Davena and Vezza d’Oglio; two companies of the 44h Battalion of the National Guard with two cannons at the Salto del Lupo bridge. They totaled nearly 1200 men.

  • At the same time the Austrian troops, nearly 1000 men under the command of von Albertini, were between Ponte di Legno and Stadolina. The evening of that same day Castellini met Caldesi at Incudine. It remains unclear if Caldesi, who was in poor health, mentioned Caldolini’s order to withdraw in case of an enemy attack. Castellini assumed that he should hold the positions previously occupied at Vezza d’Oglio and Grano. During the night beween 3 and 4 July the Austrians began moving towards Vezza in four columns: the first in the direction of San Clemente, the second in the direction of Carona, the third in the direction of San Sebastiano and the fourth along the left bank of the Oglio. Having spotted enemy troops, Captain Malagrida, following the orders received from Caldesi, ordered the company and a half deployed at Vezza and Grano to retreat to Incudine. This did not prevent the Austrians from surprising and taking prisoners some volunteers who had stayed behind near the cemetery. During the withdrawal Malagrida encountered a patrol of Bersaglieri on reconnaissance under the command of Giulio Adamoli, who brought him to Castellini in Davena to whom he explained he had obeyed Caldesi’s order to retreat. Convinced that it was a misunderstanding, Castellini persuaded Malagrida to retrace his steps, launch a counterattack with the entire 2nd Battalion of Volunteer Bersaglieri, and to reoccupy the positions they had abandoned.


    In the meantime, however, the Austrians had occupied Vezza entirely, positioning four cannons on the castle and entrenching themselves behind buildings and garden walls. The Italians advanced on three fronts: upstream towards Grano, now also occupied by the Austrians, centrally towards Vezza, and in the valley along the right bank of the Oglio. Having arrived in the proximity of the first houses they were greeted by heavy burst of gunfire by the well-positioned enemy. The first officer to fall was the Second Lieutenant Achille Prada of the Volunteers, while next to him Captain Giulio Adamoli of the Bersaglieri was wounded, though without severe consequences. Having run out of ammunition, Adamoli ordered a bayonet assault, but the intense enemy fire rendered the advance impossible and the Italians were forced to retreat with severe losses. In the meantime, in the audacious attempt to take the Austrian cannons at the castle, Major Castellini placed himself at the head of his Bersaglieri but, hit several times, fell mortally injured near the Santella di San Carlo. Some of the volunteers carried him in their arms to Incudine, but futilely.


    Despite this, the Italian attack continued under the guide of Captain Antonio Oliva who, as the oldest officer, replaced Castellini as the commander of the Bersaglieri. In one of the last attacks Captain Antonio Frigerio, commander of the 3rd Company of Bersaglieri, was also injured and later died from bleeding during his transport down the valley. Around eight in the morning the Austrians began to advance on the left bank of the Oglio, where they met no resistance, and hence threatened to encircle the entire Italian formation. Thus, seeing the useless attempts to reconquer Vezza and the danger looming on the right wing, the order came to retreat to Incundine, which the Italian volunteers carried out efficiently with most of the wounded in following.


    The fighting was over. Twenty Italians had died: fifteen Bersaglieri, among whom Commander Nicostrato Castellini and Captain Antonio Frigerio, and five Garibaldini volunteers, among whom Second Lieutenant Achille Prada. The Austrians had suffered five casualties. The wounded were seventy among the Italians, seventeen among the Austrians. Moreover, seventeen Italian prisoners, most of them wounded, remained in Austrian hands. Despite the failure, the Bersaglieri and Volunteers had fought well and courageously, earning the praise even of their adversaries. The rest of the 1st Volunteer Battalion, under the command of Caldesi, did not take part in the fighting, remaining instead entrenched in front of Incudine in accordance with the orders received from the commander of the Regiment, Cadolini. Caldesi, however, ordered the two cannons deployed at Salto del Lupo to fire a few shots, but to little effect.


    At the end of the day on 4 July the Austrians pushed forward to Davena, left unoccupied by the Italians, but then retreated to Vezza and finally to the Passo del Tonale, bringing with them their fallen and the Italian prisoners who were able to move. Instead, the most seriously wounded Italians were brought to the parish church and, as the Austrians withdrew, were left in the care of the local population. Among the most distinguished of these locals were Mayor Martino Pasolini, municipal doctor Antonio Bertoletti, municipal veterinarian Lorenzo Tedeschi, the municipal assessors, and the cleric. The work done by Mrs Caterina Boniotti Ventura is worthy of particular mention, as testified by the tricolor scarf later donated to her by the Trentine veterans. The fallen Italian soldiers were buried with military honors by the Austrians in the cemetery of Vezza, where some of them still rest in the Charnel House erected in 1895. On 5 July the Italian Volunteers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cadolini, reoccupied Vezza d’Oglio and sent the wounded and the remains of Captain Frigerio back to Edolo. However, on 15 July the Volunteer units retreated from the upper part of the Valle Camonica, leaving behind only the National Guard with a few Finanzieri and Carabinieri. This allowed the Austrians to descend once again into the valley all the way to Edolo on 20 July and again to Vezza on 23 July, where numerous requisitions took place, before they retired definitively back to the Tonale.


    It is worthwhile to underline the great display of solidarity of the population of Vezza d’Oglio towards the wounded and the other Italian volunteers despite the severe damages inflicted by the Austrians with their confiscations of goods, means of transport, livestock, and the loss of the harvest. The war ended on 12 August 1866 with the defeat of the Austrians, mainly due to the outcome of the battle of Sadowa against the Prussian army. The Italian soldiers made prisoners at Vezza were transfered to Vienna and then Croatia, and were finally repatriated at Udine at the end of the war.

  • 28 July 1873
    Inauguration of the Fallen Soldiers Memorial of 4 July 1866, with the participation of the veterans, the town authorities, and representatives of the recently established Alpine Corps. The monument stands in the piazza of the same name and was constructed with the financial support of the veterans and the municipal administration of Vezza d’Oglio.


    12 July 1891
    Celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle with the laying of a bronze wreath on the Fallen Soldiers Memorial.


    7 July 1895
    Inauguration of the Charnel House for the Fallen Soldiers in the battle, erected in the center of the cemetery of Vezza, and placement of two commemorative plaques with the names of the fallen soldiers on the memorial in Piazza 4 July 1866.


    4 July 1906
    Celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the battle.


    July 1931
    Pilgrimage of the last veterans and solemn commemoration of the battle.


    10 July 1966
    Celebration of the first centenary of the battle with the participation of the Minister of Defense and the Bishop of Brescia.


    9 July 1995
    Celebration of the first centenary of the construction of the Charnel House.