Northeastern Section - 49th Annual Meeting (23–25 March)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


CUFFEY, Roger J., Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State Univ, 412 Deike Bldg, University Park, PA 16802,

Solferino, largest clash in mid-19th-C Europe, was the war-winning battle in a war for Italian unification. Professional soldier Robert E. Lee likely heard of it (especially its massed artillery), applying its example later at Gettysburg.

The 17-km-square Solferino battlefield is dominated by a narrow, steep-sided, 100-m-high ridge W of that village, with lower cultivated plains to N and S. Capped by a medieval tower furnishing views all around, this is an end/terminal moraine of late Riss (3rd glacial; ~150 ka) age; it is one of the outermost moraines concentrically rimming the S end of Lake Garda. It consists of compact massive silt with many floating cobbles - many volcanics, some carbonates, a few crystallines, all subrounded, water-worn in the ancestral lake before being picked up by the glacier filling its valley. The lowlands to the N are underlain by younger till (Würm, 4thglacial; 70-15 ka), and to the S by weathered older drift (mid-Pleistocene; ~300-600? ka). In contrast, Gettysburg's bedrock (diabase vs. redbeds) holds up 20-m-high Cemetery Ridge.

In mid-1859, the Austrian army moved W beyond Solferino ridge and unexpectedly met the on-coming French and Piedmontese at dawn on June 24 (start of Battle of Solferino). By mid-morning, many French cannons from Grole to Rebecco were bombarding that ridge. Later, French infantry assaulted the W slope, getting up on the ridge top's NW end by early afternoon. Simultaneously, more French infantry swept SE around the S end of Solferino ridge, N into Solferino village, and on SE into San Cassiano. Mid-afternoon, French infantry also attacked the NE slope of the ridge, and helped push SE along the ridge top to take the tower. Austrian troops pulled back into the lowlands to the E, their cavalry counter-attacked but failed to stop the advancing French, who went on SE into Cavriana. Then, a sudden heavy rainstorm (as after Gettysburg) halted the fighting. The Austrians exited the battlefield to the E, leaving the French in control of the area.

Meanwhile, to the N, through most of the day, the Piedmontese and another Austrian force were deadlocked in stalemate (Battle of San Martino).

Afterwards, the casualties and destruction so shocked the participants that they negotiated an end to the war in France's favor. This also led to the International Red Cross and Geneva Convention.

  • SolfPosterSupplem.pdf (10.9 MB)