Friday, September 7, 2012

General Ettore Perrone di San Martino

Ettore Perrone conte di San Martino was born in Turin on January 12, 1789 to a prominent aristocratic family of Canavese. He began his military career in the service of France when the French dominated northern Italy. In 1806 he volunteered for the “Legion du Midi”, graduated from Saint-Cyr military academy and then served as an infantry junior officer in the campaigns of 1807 to 1809. He earned the Legion of Honor for gallantry at the battle of Wagram where he was wounded. From 1810 to 1811 he fought in Spain as an officer in the Young Guard, in the summer of 1811 becoming a member of the prestigious Old Guard grenadiers. Despite being wounded, he hobbled off on crutches to serve in the invasion of Russia. As an infantry captain he fought at Luetzen and Bautzen in 1813, was stabbed by a bayonet and was wounded no less than three times at the battle of Montmirail. The following year Napoleon promoted him to command of the 24th Infantry Battalion and during the famous Hundred Days campaign he served as adjutant to General Gerard.

Perrone stayed in France after the Bourbon restoration and was recalled to the army in 1817. After his service he returned to Turin after a stopover in England. When the House of Savoy restored the monarchy to its pre-Revolutionary form he tried to enlist the support of other nobles against it, advocating instead for a constitutional monarchy. This coincided with the Carbonari uprising in Piedmont-Sardinia and a resulting crackdown by government forces. He was arrested and condemned to death for revolutionary activity, however, he managed to escape to France and rejoined the army there, rising to the rank of general. Back home he was hanged in effigy by the authorities. In France, Perrone married a relative of the famous Marquis de Lafayette but took his family out of Paris during the uprising that brought down King Charles X. Perrone stayed with the army, rising to command the Loire Department command. However, his homeland was never far from his thoughts, nor was he from their own and in the revolutionary year of 1848 22,330 people voted for him in elections for the Constituent Assembly, despite his still being in France. That month, after the proclamation of March 23 by King Carlo Alberto, after 27 years in exile, he left France and wrote to his old friend, Cesare Balbo, offering his sword for the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

It was also in March of 1848, in the famous “Five Days” that Italian nationalists in Milan rose up and expelled the Austrian garrison. Afterwards, the Provisional Government of Milan gave him the post of Inspector General of the Army of Lombardy and the city of Ivrea nominated him to be their Deputy in the recently formed Subalpine Parliament in Turin. However, General Perrone dismissed all praise for himself, claiming all the time to be nothing more than a humble farmer and foot soldier. Nonetheless, the government in Turin named him Minister of Foreign Affairs though at the same time others cast aspersions on him for his long stay in France and his handling of the army. From October 11 to December 16 he held the post of Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, though his enemies still tried to spread opposition to him. Not allowed to stand for elections, King Carlo Alberto stepped in and appointed him to the rank of general in his army, giving him command of the Third Infantry Division consisting of 12,027 men and 16 canon. It was in this capacity that, the following year, he took part in the pivotal battle of Novara in the First Italian War of Independence.

The Austrians under Field Marshal Graf Radetzky had marched into Lombardy and seized Mortara and the Piedmontese army under the Polish Napoleonic veteran General Wojciech Chrzanowski (who was ignorant of the ground, the situation and did not even speak Italian) rushed to meet them at Novara. Lt. General Ettore Perrone commanded the left wing of the Piedmontese forces. A key portion of the army was cut off (whether by treachery or incompetence remains debated but the general in charge was shot) and the whole Austrian army fell on the Piedmontese at Novara. The Austrians were experienced, well trained and disciplined and with a veteran and skillful commander very familiar with northern Italy. The Piedmontese had a slight numerical advantage but were disadvantaged in every other way. The Austrians launched a heavy attack on his sector and he at least held firm but he was cut down in a heavy fusillade, being shot in the head and knocked from his horse, dislocating his shoulder in the process. He lingered for several hours in great pain before passing away.

His funeral services were large affairs attended by many people and his family went on after him. His great-great granddaughter is HM Queen Paola of the Belgians.

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