|Alessandro La Marmora|
The perseverance the knowledge the loyalty the commitment to the State
Alessandro Ferrero della Marmora (1799-1855)
In 1814, at the age of fifteen, he joined the Piedmontese army as supernumerary second lieutenant in the regiment of the Grenadier Guards and became regular second lieutenant in 1815; that year he participated in the Grenoble campaign, taking the place of a flag-bearer, and was seriously wounded by an explosion of a gunpowder powder. In 1816 he was appointed second lieutenant of the Grenadiers and in1817 orderly lieutenant .
In 1821 at the age of 22, he fought at Novara with the troops under the orders of General Sallier de la Tour and was awarded the cross of justice by the Mauritian Order.
In 1831 he presented his first project for the creation of the Bersaglieri corps which was established by the king in 1836; in 1844 Alessandro was colonel in command of the Bersaglieri and took part in the First War of Independence which was the baptism of fire for the new military corps; on the bridge of Goito in 1848, when Alessandro was 49, he was shot in the face by a bullet which broke his jaw. In July of the same year he was promoted to major general. The following year, 1849, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the army and inspector of the Bersaglieri. For his participation in the battles of Mortara and Novara he received the silver medal for Military Valour. The same year he moved to Genoa where he was in charge of the division stationed in the Ligurian city and at the command of his brother Alfonso, Royal commissioner who had been sent to quell an anti-monarchy revolt. In 1852 Alessandro was regular commander of the military division of Genoa and in the same year was promoted by King Vittorio Emanuele II to lieutenant general.
Alessandro stayed in the Ligurian capital until 1854, when he married Rosa Roccatagliata, widow of Rati Opizzoni. In 1855, at the age of 56, he was lieutenant general in command of the second division of the army corps sent to the Crimea, where his brother Alfonso was commander-in-chief of the contingent of the Kingdom of Sardinia in the East. The troops of Savoy, thanks to the diplomatic manoeuvres of Cavour, introduced by Alfonso la Marmora, joined the Turkish, British and French contingents against Russia.
Two other members of the family accompanied the two brothers: Alfonso’s wife, Giovanna Bertie Mathew and nephew Vittorio, son of his brother Carlo Emanuele who was naval officer in command of the port of Balaklava.
Alessandro and the Bersaglieri left Genoa for the Crimea on the 19 May in 1855 on the warship Costituzione which took ten days to reach Balaklava. In the following months a cholera epidemic spread rapidly among the Piedmontese troops and between the end of May and the beginning of June the number of deaths quadrupled. Alessandro la Marmora fell ill on June 4th and died on the night of 6th and 7th June on a camp bed at Kadikoi, just like any ordinary soldier. His body was buried not far from the camp but was later moved twice and finally placed in the naval cemetery of Balaklava where other commanders of the Crimean war were also buried.
His remains were brought back to Italy in 1911 with great ceremony and laid to rest in Biella in the La Marmora crypt in the Basilica of San Sebastiano.
His death from cholera had an ironical antecedent: Alessandro had written notes about how to treat and prevent this disease while he was commander of the Military division of Genoa and the epidemic was raging in the city.
Alfonso, he had travelled all over Europe to study existing military corps and to learn what changes were required. Alessandro was chiefly inspired by the Chasseurs des Alpes, and wanted to build a military unit capable of moving quickly and in small groups over particularly difficult terrain. However, his idea was not accepted by the military hierarchy of his time who still relied on the strategic methods of the 1700’s. Until that time, war had been a head-on clash between armies which moved according to precise rituals and procedures dictated by rigid hierarchical schemes. Alessandro, with his Bersaglieri idea , broke with this centuries-old tradition, envisaging his Bersaglieri as the marines of today, a specialized assault corps, trained to fight in the most difficult terrain, intervening swiftly and with subtle manoeuvres.
He was also awarded the Silver Medal for Military Valour for having fought at Novara and Mortara, the Piedmontese Medal of the Crimean War and he was made Knight of Honour and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Celebrations in memory of Alessandro began only a few years after his death when his brother Alfonso erected a bronze statue of him in the garden of the house he had built along what was to become the via Cernaia in Turin, on land which was awarded to him by the Chamber of Deputies for his war achievements . In 1858 the Bersaglieri barracks were constructed in the same area of the city and in 1886 the National Association of the Bersaglieri was founded. The many difficult times of his life both as man and soldier made him a popular figure , arousing feelings of affection and loyalty to the founder that still characterize the corps of the Bersaglieri and the National Association of the Bersaglieri today.
The brothers Carlo Emanuele, Alberto and Alfonso are also buried in the La Marmora crypt in San Sebastiano in Biella.