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Who was Andreas Hofer?

Andreas Hofer is still revered by many in Tyrol as a hero today, more than 250 years after his death.

In any case, he is – alongside Ötzi and Reinhold Messner – one of the most famous Tyroleans.
He was born on 22 November 1767 at the Sandhof Inn in St. Leonhard in Passeier and, after a difficult childhood, became captain of a militia company in the Passeier Valley. He rose to the command of the Tyroleans in the battles against the Bavarians, who had occupied the land in 1806, as well as against Napoleon’s troops. In the main battles on the Bergisel mountain near Innsbruck (in part supported by Austrian troops) he three times succeeded in repelling superior enemy forces. On 15 August 1809 he established himself in the Hofburg Palace in Innsbruck, where he acted as Regent for two and a half months. On 14 October, in an unexpected turn, Austria was compelled to cede the now re-annexed Tyrol to Bavaria under the Treaty of Schönbrunn. Unable to comprehend this act, Hofer lost the fourth Battle of Bergisel on All Saints’ Day, 1809. In the weeks that followed he paid excessive heed to radical fellow fighters, issuing pointless orders to continue the fighting. The French revenged themselves with terrible retaliatory measures on the local population. At the end of November Hofer fled to a mountain hut, the “Pfandleralm”. Betrayed by a compatriot, he was captured there on 27 January 1810 and first taken to Meran with his son Johann, wife Anna and scribe Kajetan Sweth: he was subsequently brought in several stages to Mantua where, on the orders of Napoleon, he was shot on 20 February 1810 following a mock trial. He did not attempt to flee as he was wedded to the belief that he would have to pay for his actions.

Text: Albin Pixner, MuseumPasseier
English translation: Gareth Norbury
Oberhofer Andreas, Der Andere Hofer. Der Mensch hinter dem Mythos. Schlern-Schriften, 2009.
Rohrer Josef, Heroes & Hofer. When Andreas Hofer came in the museum. 2009.

Andreas Hofer, coloured etching of Johann Georg Schedler, 1809.

Photo: MuseumPasseier

The battle of Volano, fought in April 1809 by the Imperial Austrian army together with the Tyrolean rebels, can be seen as the main episode in the liberation of the Italian Tyrol from the Franco-Bavarian troops.

The French troops, some 10,000 men commanded by General Baraguay d’Hilliers, abandoned Trento on 22 April and reorganised themselves to defend the heights near Volano, pursued by the Habsburg army commanded by General Chasteler. At that time the course of the River Adige between Volano and Calliano almost completely barred the valley, significantly limiting the room for manoeuvre.

The two armies made contact on the morning of 24 April. The French, stationed on the hills near Volano, opened fire first. From the town, the battle developed both along the banks overlooking the Adige and towards the hills to the east as far as Toldo and Monte Ghello. The French, positioned on the hills, were caught in a pincer movement, with the Tyrolean Schützen (militiamen) firing from the slopes of Monte Cornale and the troops of General Fenner, positioned with two cannons on the right bank of the Adige, opposite the village of Ischia di Sant’Ilario.

The French counterattacked and the battle became particularly fierce by the church of Volano. The clashes fluctuated throughout the whole day, only subsiding in the evening. The Napoleonic army lost one thousand dead; the Habsburgs seven hundred.

Simultaneous with the battle – and directly related to it – was the fighting at Mori, where the French attacked the Tyrolean rebels in the village with the aim of preventing the encirclement of the other French troops engaged on the heights of Volano.

On 25 April the Napoleonic forces withdrew from Rovereto and retreated towards Verona. The next day the Tyrolean rebels entered the town with Andreas Hofer and the Habsburg army, some 18,000 men in total. The region was once again free, but the joy of the Tyroleans was short-lived. The French returned to the Vallagarina in early May with a column of troops led by General Rusca.

French muzzle-loading cannon projectile, collected in 1809 near the walls of Piazza Fiera, in Trento

Photo: Fondazione Museo storico del Trentino
Andreis Girolamo, Andrea Hoffer, o, la sollevazione del Tirolo del 1809. Milano: Gnocchi, 1856
Candido Giampietro, Le milizie locali fiemmesi: dalle guerre napoleoniche alla fine della I° guerra mondiale (1796-1918). Villalagarina (TN): Pezzini, 1981
Ischia Marco, “La battaglia di Volano, 24 aprile 1809“. La Battaglia di Volano e gli atti del convegno Hofer, Lanz, Negrelli insorgenti per la fede. Volano (TN): Comune di Volano, 2011.
Sardagna Filiberto, Operazioni militari nel Trentino 1796–1797. Modena: Società tipografica modenese, 1908.
Stutterheim Karl von, La Guerre De L’an 1809 Entre L’Autriche Et La France. Vienna: Strauss, 1811
Zotti Raffaele, Storia della Valle Lagarina. Trento: Tipografia Monauni, 1862-1863.