3On 24 June 1859 the armies of France and Sardinia engaged Austrian forces near the northernItalian village of Solferino. This decisive battle in the struggle for Italian unity was also themost horrific bloodbathEurope had known since Waterloo: in ten hours of fierce fighting,more than 6,000 soldiers were killed and more than 30,000 wounded.
The medical services of the Franco-Sardinian armies were totally overwhelmed, exposing thenegligence of the supply corps: the French army had more veterinary surgeons than doctors;transport was woefully inadequate; crates of field dressings were dumped far from the frontline and sent back to Paris, unopened, at the end of the campaign. General de la Bollardière,FrenchQuartermaster-General, reported that it took six days to bring in 10,212 wounded fromthe field.
Helped by their comrades, leaning on makeshift crutches or on their rifles, the woundedsoldiers staggered to nearby villages in search of food, water, first aid and shelter. More than9,000 of them came to the small town of Castiglione delle Stiviere, where invalids soonoutnumbered the able-bodied.
The wounded were everywhere -in houses, barns andchurches, or filling up the squares and lanes.On the evening of 24 June a young man from Geneva, Henry Dunant, arrived in Castiglione. Abanker by profession, he was travelling on urgent private business and had no particularmedical knowledge, but he was too compassionate to be able to disregard the pain and distressaround him: for several days and nights he worked at the “
a churchsheltering more than 500 wounded. He gave them water to ease their thirst; he cleaned theirwounds, changed dressings; he sent his coachman to the city of Bresciato buy clothfordressings, pipes and tobacco, herbal infusions and fruit; he enlisted the aid of charitable localwomen to tend the injured and dying; he wrote to his friends at home to ask for supplies. Inshort, he set an example and tried to organize help so as to alleviate, as far as possible, thesuffering which confronted him.
Dr. J.-C. C
Statistique médico-chirurgicale de la Campagne d'Italie en 1859 et 1860
,Librairie militaire de J. Dumaine, Paris, 1869, vol. II, pp. 851-853.
Quoted by Pierre B
History of the International Committee of the Red Cross: FromSolferino to Tsushima
, Henry Dunant Institute, Geneva, 1985, p. 22 (original French edition,Plon, Paris, 1963).