1865 An End to Military Conflict but Not a Beginning of Peace
By Tom Frascella July 2017
As the year 1865 began, the United States and Lucania each saw major internal militarized civil conflicts drawing to a close. Of course the United States was witnessing the final months of the bloodiest four year conflict in its history, a national Civil War. It was a war in which the combined civilian and military death totals related to the conflict would reach approximately 800,000. This in a country which recorded its 1860 population at 31 million. It was also a conflict which would, regardless of outcome, fundamentally change the future of the American Republic, politically, socially and economically. As much was at stake, political observers here and abroad watched closely as the American conflict drew to a military close. Among those who also watched closely were our San Felese ancestors in residence in the U.S as refugees.
In Italy, the second War of Unification which began in 1858 had by 1862 witnessed the establishment of the first unified State of Italy. The first since the Roman Empire a thousand years earlier. But because the “war” included military conflicts involving armies that were Italian based it too was a “civil” war which created and left the fratricidal scars natural to such civil conflict. However, by the 1862 conclusion of the inter-government/kingdom hostilities, social prejudices, greed and inequitable governance had culminated in new civil conflicts. An insurgency/rebellion, in southern Italy against the dominant Piedmont regime began as a protest against policies being implemented. This rather disorganized civilian southern resistance ran from approximately 1862-1865. Casualties, especially in Basilicata, ran high in this civil conflict. More people, civilian and Piedmont military were killed in Piedmont’s crushing of the southern insurgency than died in the inter-kingdom conflicts of unification. Estimates of deaths, primarily civilian were between 30,000 and as high as 100,000. However, by 1865 Piedmont had essentially crushed the southern insurgency after four years of a brutal militarized civilian suppression.
With the crushing of the southern insurgency much of the military’s direct counter-insurgency action together with the Legge Pica Laws were formally if not actually, brought to an end. Therefore, there is a split among Italian historians with regard to whether 1862 or 1864-1865 marks the end of the Second War of Unification. In Italy as in the case of the American Civil War the conclusion of military hostility left a fundamentally changed society still very much in social, moral, economic and political conflict. It also left a 125,000 man army composed of mostly non-regional Italians in southern Italy as “peacekeepers”.
As history teaches, and we tend to ignore, the end of military action does not necessarily bring peace to a region. In fact, peace may be a totally unrealistic expectation following the conduct of a brutal fratricidal conflict. Much of the future relationship of how warring parties to such conflict move forward after cessation of hostilities depends on the actions of the victors to the conflict. The greater the sense of vengeful or unfair treatment by the losing side the more likely that psychological scares inflicted will not heal and may grow worse. By maintaining so large a force of “foreign” military Peacekeepers continued resentment and occurrence of heavy-handed abuse of power are almost inevitable.
Unfortunately, this article and site have neither the space nor ambition to take on an analysis of the post- American Civil War Reconstruction with its pros and cons. There are many very good works on that subject and I would encourage people interested in the subject to read them. Lincoln, as many people know wanted to encourage reconciliation between North and South above all else. He recognized and was concerned that there was great potential to create, by abusive or heavy-handed practices, the kind of grass-root insurgency among America’s southern population that Italy had seen in its south. Lincoln wanted to avoid such a situation.
However, our focus in this article is more centered on the impact that the waning days of the American and Italian conflict but only in terms of how our Lucanian ancestors were impacted by those times and events. Those impacts effected the one hundred or so San Felese/ Vulture region’s Italian political refugees living in America between 1860 and 1865 in a number of ways. First, these men had an opportunity to observe first hand America at war and how it had conducted itself in that war. They also had an opportunity to observe first-hand American principles in conflict. With the end of the military action they also witnessed the promise of abolition fulfilled at enormous cost yet an olive branch offered to the southern States that had rebelled.
Most of the Italian refugees residing in the U.S. at this time were politically knowledgeable and interested in process as they were “political refugees”. Most of these refugees probably identified themselves in Italian terms with Mazzinian republican politics in Italy. So a war being waged for among other goals equality and abolition of slavery would have been of great personal interest and sympathy to them. They also would have at a political level followed with interest how the country would attempt to bind its wounds from the war and establish equitable peace for all of its citizens including former slaves. Most would have related their Mazzinian position as one closely allied to Lincoln’s Republican Party’s position. The question of how the American Republic would move forward after the war mirrored in their minds, the same question facing the Italian government and its treatment of southern Italians. These men as political refugees understood first hand that Italy had not honestly followed principles of equality in reconciliation with the people of the rural Italian south.
To understand why the question of how peace was achieved in Italy was of instant important, like most political refugees, their hope was to return home to their culture, family and friends. America had provided them a “temporary” safe-haven from the suppression they faced at home during the insurrection. Nevertheless, their desire was to return home. They were grateful that America had provided them with an opportunity, even with their initial limited English skills, to support themselves through their labor on civilian war projects. The work was hard, many worked as construction laborers, but it had supported them and met their basic needs.
But peace in America also meant their access to these labor opportunities which were created by the labor shortage due to able-bodied men going off to war were not as readily available. Further once the war concluded the opportunities for unskilled labor dramatically vanished as projects and war funding was decreased and in many cases stopped entirely.
However, as opportunities in America were drying up the fighting in Italy abated. In theory a path for them to return to Italy seemed to open to them but the question was, should they return. They understood that many could be regarded as insurgents or draft-dodgers upon re-entry into Italian society. This could potently subject them to imprisonment. A decision nevertheless had to be made and most apparently choose to return.
What the End of the American and Italian Conflicts Meant to San Felese Refugees
Most San Felese refugees living in the United States between 1861 and 1865 were living in northern, “Union” States during the American Civil War. In the waning months of the Conflict the Union’s superior numbers of troops and its vastly superior supply lines coupled with its industrial might overwhelmed the southern forces. However to achieve and develop that industrial superiority had been very costly to the northern States both in men and funding for infrastructure development. As the end neared, expenditures began to be pulled back, reducing the need for project labor. In addition, as soldiers began to be discharged they began to re-enter civilian life and the job market. This resulted in an initial drying up of the projects and work that the refugees had been depending on for their survival. I say initially as American industry did recognize the industrial potential awakened in the war effort. Many were eager to convert that war industry into opportunities for civilian manufacturing and trade. Such a conversion of industry would require substantial investment and labor, facts that would become clear to American industrialists eventually.
In Italy, in particular Basilicata, the insurgency had all but been destroyed and many of those who had taken active part were either dead or had turned themselves in to the authorities. Many of these had received very harsh jail sentences or had been executed. An uneasy calm had developed.
Basilicata during the preceding 100 year history had seen many “revolts” under the Bourbons. On average regional civil protest and flare-ups had occurred about every twenty years going back to the late 1700’s. Each of these “mini” revolts while having produced local casualties ended with the “in power authority” eventually granting amnesty. This was done in an attempt by the Bourbon authorities to reestablish “normalcy”. The regimes wanted the civilian population of the region to return to the “difficult” but traditional rural lifestyle of the south. Production, especially rural agricultural production is labor intensive in the south. Probably for those that fled to America the expectation was that at the conclusion of the most recent hostilities with the insurgency, Piedmont would adopt the “old” Bourbon way of dealing with the aftermath. Their expectation was that Piedmont would grant general amnesty. For those that fled to America amnesty meant that they could return with little consequence or risk.
They also expected that they could return to their traditional way of life and status while reuniting with their families.
This appears to be what many of the refugees in fact did expect, including my great-great grandfather Vito, who returned to Italy in late 1865. Vito, his brother and some of their other refugee companions did arrived back in San Fele starting in late 1865 and more in early 1866. For Vito this marked an end to a 3-4 year absence and separation from his family. During Vito’s time in the U.S. only his younger brother, who had also been living in the U.S., served as family contact. For Vito return also marked a reuniting with his wife and six year old son, Gaetano. But upon arrival home Vito, according to family sources, did begin to focus on his family’s future including family expansion, he would have a daughter Angela born in 1867. But also in family narratives a darker perspective regarding what Vito was seeing as the new condition of the region began to emerge. In family narratives 1867 is the point that Vito began to consider what the future under the Piedmont regime would mean to his children and their future. Arriving back in Italy in late 1865 was actually the first time since 1862 that Vito got to see first-hand how the new government’s programs and intentions toward the Basilicata region had played out in the conflict and thereafter.
Apparently Vito on his return found conditions in the region “shocking”. On the personal side there had been a considerable decline in the family’s personal fortune during his four year absence. The family’s resources were directly tied to agriculture which had suffered because of war as well as government taxing policies and corrupt “land reform” initiatives. But more importantly the impact of Piedmont’s war on the insurgency had had devastating effect on the region, socially, monetarily, culturally and physically. Both the past hardships and the continuing hardships applied against the region were far greater on the town and region than he had imagined or the information reaching him in America had described. He saw very quickly the conditions and policies would stifle the future of the region.
To begin with, there were the thousands of innocent civilian victims who had been killed and many thousands who were imprisoned, serving long sentences. Many people had “disappeared”. Family units had been disrupted by these casualties and the loss of men had altered the economics of the community. It also altered negatively the family units and certainty of family bonds.
Institutions that traditionally provided basic education had been shuttered and no funding to restart these primary schools of learning or to replace them was being provided. This would limit opportunities in professions and lead to a generation of uneducated and unskilled workers. Little institutional response could be expected as all of the basic civil institutions were either directly run by northern administrators or local puppets of the northern regime. These had little incentive to make things better.
These administrators often motivated by greed and contempt for the rural locals acted eagerly to line their own pockets and inflict punitive sanctions on a population which they considered inferior. Their actions backed up and enforced by 125,000 “occupation” troops, mostly northern Italians were unchallengeable. While Legge Pica had been rescinded in 1865 in practice it was still enforced by military policy in the south. That enforcement was by a military which encouraged the northern based occupation troops to regard the southern rural Italian as inferior, culturally, morally and racially.
It is clear from both family narratives and from Vito’s and others subsequent actions that upon their return they quickly found a situation to be both intolerable and stifling. In the stories that I was told Vito determined in 1867 that he was moving his whole family to America as quickly as he could establish himself there. I think that it is an indication of how bad he found the situation that he had made the radical decision to emigrate to the U.S. only two years after his return. That in just two years he no longer considered the environment acceptable or believed there was a future for the next generation, given how people were being treated under the policies being enforced.
I also believe that these returning San Felese having concluded that conditions in San Fele were unacceptable, began to influence the options and choices of the whole San felese community. After all they returned to a local situation armed with the experience of life and attitudes from America. What they said about America to their fellow San Felese from what I heard centered on the contrast in the political morality at the time between the two countries. What got passed along in the family conversations was Vito’s great admiration for Abraham Lincoln, who he a heard speak in Washington D.C. What impressed him was not just the “power” of Lincoln’s words but that those words were backed up by a promise/sacrifice to liberty equality that so many had contributed to.
I don’t think it a stretch to say that in the stories told by these returning Lucanian refugees of their American experience, the sacrifices America made for equality and the jobs available resonated with the community. I think that from people returning like these Lucanians that the Italian myth/hope of what America and its opportunities held was born. Indeed the consequence of the telling of these stories would very shortly manifest itself throughout Basilicata. For the Basilicatan of that day the promise of liberty and opportunity, when they had none at home, was as powerful catalyst for what would shortly be the reality of mass immigration..
However, this article is focused on 1865 occurrences not later assessments, decisions and actions. 1865 is a critical pivot year in both European and Italian politics. Italy/Piedmont was still focused on a unified Italy that included Venice and in their view unification was not complete. Venice was still controlled by Austria. Piedmont further still regarded Rome and the Vatican State as an integral part of a unified Italy which remained outside their reach. In order for Piedmont to achieve its goal of what it considered full unification both Austria a powerful State and the protection of the Vatican by France had to be overcome.
The political events taking shape in northern Europe in 1865 would, as it turns out, provide Piedmont with the pathway for furthering its unification goals. Not surprisingly Napoleon III was very much an active participant in those political events. However, another European political leader was just arriving on Europe’s center stage in the person of Otto Von Bismarck of Prussia.
The Politics of Germany 1865
The fortunes of southern Italy have for the past millennia often been linked directly or indirectly with the politics of Germany. For San Fele this connection begins in the year 966 A.D. when the then Austrian King and declared Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great built the first structure, a fortress, in what would become San Fele. The fortress stood for 600 years until destroyed in an earthquake and dismantled by the townspeople. In the early 12th century thru mid-13th century southern Italy and Sicily came under the direct control of the Hohenstaufen branch of Austrian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors, including Frederick II. San Fele saw frequent visits by the Emperor Frederick II as he enjoyed hunting in the mountains of the region, spending a great deal of time in his fortress castle at Melfi. Frederick was present at one of the most sacred of San Fele occasions the consecration of the Church of the Ma Donna de Pierno in 1226. So there is a direct and ancient link to this branch of Austrian monarchs and the politics of Germany.
Following the late 13th century defeat of the Hohenstaufens, the Imperial mantle of the Holy Roman Empire passed to the Hapsburg dynasty in Vienna. In southern Italy the reigning families that replaced the Hohenstaufens initially were the Angevins who in turn were followed by the Bourbons. Both families had their origins in France and Spain but were connected thru marriages to the Hapsburgs. History reflects that on a number of occasions through the centuries Austria directly supplied troops and support for these southern Italian regimes.
Although the Hapsburgs ruled as Holy Roman Emperors the vast German speaking territories of Europe from roughly the 14th century until the beginning of the 19th century, the Empire was made up of hundreds of small kingdoms rather than a singular State entity.
The centralized power of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors was somewhat fluid throughout the 500 years of their stewardship until the rise of Napoleon. The somewhat disunited federation of German speaking States allowed Napoleon many early military victories in central Europe.
As noted earlier in this article, southern Italians had been seeking an end of the Bourbon rule, and an installation of a republican form of government, in the Kingdom of Naples, since the late 18th century. Every 15 years or so there would be a revolt which the Bourbons, often with the aid of their cousins the Hapsburgs, would put down.
However, when the Hapsburg dynasty abdicated the Title of Holy Roman Emperors in 1806 in the face of the military threat of Napoleon more than a ceremonial power was relinquished. The power, prestige and dominance of the Hapsburgs among the German speaking kingdoms began to wane. In the battle for Europe against Napoleon the power and prestige of the German States began to shift and the Prussia State began to ascend as the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars saw the establishment of a German Confederation in 1815.
In the 1830’s under the political influence of writers such as Giuseppe Mazzini a new wave of unification and nationalism began to sweep across not only Italy but much of Europe including the German speaking kingdoms. In the Treaty of 1815 following the Napoleonic Wars the various German States formed a Confederation of roughly 37 States but not a unified country. Sentiment for national unification among the German people began to be broadly supported and discussed. By the 1860’s the subject of formal unification of the German States under a unified national government and State had taken on a new dimension and evolved among the Germans into two camps. The first camp was supported by the Hapsburgs and the Austria Empire from Vienna. This camp favored a uniting of all German speaking peoples into one national State. Because Austria lead this faction it saw all of the people that were under the jurisdiction of the Austrian Empire as also included. However, many of the peoples of the Austrian Empire were not ethnic Germans and many did not speak German as their primary language. Included among these were Poles, Hungarians, Serbs and even Italians in northern Italy. Many of these people did not see themselves as ethnic German and did not necessarily want to politically remain or become a part of a unified German national State. In fact the Austrian Empire had for centuries been dealing with separatist rebellions of sort or another among these varied ethnic groups. Nevertheless the Austrian position pushed the single entity” inconclusive” political camp. This position came to be known among the Germans as the Grossdeutsche Losung or Greater German solution.
The second camp favored a division of the German speaking people into two States, one northern and one southern. This camp, favored by Prussia came to be known as the Kleindeutschland Losung camp. Underlying the rational and support for the two German State solution were in part religious factors that considered preferences. Northern Germans were primarily Protestant and southern Germans were predominantly Catholic. In addition, there was sentiment among many northern Germans that did not to want to include non-ethnic German people in their culture or politics. Considerations of ethnic purity but also inviting never ending minority civil unrest factor into the political arguments of this group.
Throughout the first half of the 19th century the Prussian State became increasingly more industrialized, militarized and influential among the Northern European German States, while the power and influence of the Austrian “Empire” slowly declined in this camp. Matters of internal German Confederation politics came to a head with the rise of a Prussian politician known as Otto Von Bismarck in 1862. He became a very vocal proponent of the two German State solution.
Bismarck very early in his political tenure had skillfully formed an allegiance with Russia by aiding Russia in putting down an insurgency in Poland. This alliance with Russia greatly increased trade markets for the industrialized Prussia and raised Prussia’s international stature and prestige. Prussia needed the boost as it was not fully regarded as a great European military power in part because during the nationalist rebellions occurring throughout much of Europe in 1848 German nationalists in Holstein, Schleswig and Lauenburg rebelled against Danish rule. The rebellion failed despite the support from Prussia in 1851. The military loss to the Danish army was something of a black-eye to the Prussians. This conflict is known as the first Schleswig War.
After the death of the Danish King 12 years later, in 1863 the ethnic political tensions again rose in the three minor German kingdoms/States. Because the Danish King had died without a direct heir this time both Prussian and Austrian Monarchs raised claim to the three territories.
A noted Austria had traditionally been the force among the German speaking kingdoms and after 1815 the German speaking Confederation of States. As the Prussian State industrialized and militarized Bismarck saw opportunity to assume leadership of the northern German faction by asserting Prussia’s control over the disputed territories. However, Bismarck was cognizant of the negative impact on Prussian military might that the defeat of Prussian forces in the First Schleswig War had caused. He understood that he had to avoid such a defeat in the present situation. Bismarck’s solution was to encourage a joint effort by Prussia and Austria to “reclaim” the territories as part of the German Confederation. This lead to the Second Schleswig War fought between Denmark and the German Confederation primarily Prussia and Austria. The Germans won and the territories were divided in control and influence between Prussia and Austria by the Treaty of Vienna on October 30 1864.
However, tensions over the control of these territories between Prussia and Austria continued to fester bringing the two major German States to the brink of war. War was averted when essentially Austria blinked. A new territorial convention was convened in August 1865 and total control of Schleswig was turned over to Prussia. In addition, Austria made concessions to Prussia granting Kiel harbor, a key naval base, to Prussia. A further concession, the rights to Lauenburg were turned over to Prussia in exchange for a payment to Austria of 2.5 Danish thalers. Base on this resolution Prussia was regarded as having at least momentarily “defeated” Austrian supremacy within the Confederation.
The Biarritz Meeting
The perception among the Germans States was that Prussia had ascended in status and position following this outcome and division of the territories. Much of the credit for this was placed at the feet of the Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck. This perception of political change was duly appreciated well beyond just the German States in the Confederation. Napoleon III apparently saw in the political shift an opportunity to improve France’s tactical position as well. He arranged for the meeting between himself and Bismarck. Apparently what Napoleon saw was an opportunity to further divide and as he perceived weaken the German Confederation by supporting the Prussian position. He further perceived that there might be an opportunity to weaken Austria directly.
The meeting between the two men was conducted at Napoleon’s seaside Imperial Palace in Biarritz, France. The Palace had been commissioned and built under the direction of Napoleon III’s wife Eugenia in 1855. The Palace had since its construction been regarded as one of the most luxurious modern royal venues In Europe. It regularly saw the most elite of European royalty and political life as guest
Photograph of the Hotel du Palais
The Palace was and is still today famous as a resort. The town is known for its scenic seaside setting on the Atlantic southern coast of France, in France’s Basque region. During the reign of Napoleon III the Palace was often the site of gatherings of European royalty and other important dignitaries. Its luxurious accommodations and distance from Paris However also made it an ideal place for Napoleon and his guests to relax while conducting affairs of state. These meetings could be made far from the prying eyes of foreign and domestic opposing interests.
Today the Palace which was repurposed as a hotel in the late 19th century continues to exist as the famous Hotel du Palais. Biarritz continues to attract vacationers for its beauty, seaside atmosphere, famous hotel and casino.
Photograph of Emperor Napoleon III
Both French Emperor Napoleon III and Prussia’s Prime Minister Otto Von Bismarck were very secretive regarding the private meetings conducted in October 1865. No formal reports on the meetings or discussions were recorded or delivered to their respective legislatures or ministers. Commentaries on the discussion points only came to light in later letters of ministers. The two men seem to have been careful to ensure that no formal agreement was reached at the meetings. However, from later documents it was discerned that at the very least there was an understanding reached between the two leaders. The basic understanding reached between the two men was that hat France would not object/interfere by military or political reaction to Prussia’s annexing additional German States into a unified Prussian dominated orbit. This understanding appears to have extended to include the non- interference by France should Prussia seek annexation of then Austrian controlled Holstein.
Photograph of Prussian Prime Minister Otto Von Bismarck
What is probably most important in this informal agreement was that in any conflict between Prussia and Austria, France would not ally with Austria. In fact it suggests that France Napoleon anticipated that if such a military conflict between Prussia and Austria arose over the disputed territories France would side, possibly but not necessarily militarily with Prussia.
Napoleon for his part seems to have pushed for Prussia to agree that it would not interfere in Italy’s quest to obtain Austria’s Venetian territories. This would not seem to benefit France except to the extent that it diminished the Austrian Empire and placed a larger Italian State on Austria’s southern border. An Italian State which would be hostile to Austrian interests and an Italian State which was a French ally.
What in fact all of this diplomatic maneuvering meant was that the stage for what history calls the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. In addition Napoleon III was also setting the stage for a collateral conflict that Italians refer to as the Third Italian War of Unification also conducted in 1866.
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