Disbanding the Southern Italian Insurgent Volunteers
By: Tom Frascella February 2016
Once King Victor Emmanuel II had arrived in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies his military forces moved quickly to encircle King Francis and the Bourbon forces in northern Campania. He also, moved quickly to remove most of the Garibaldian forces from front line positions. The question then presented was what to do with the roughly 40,000-60,000 Piedmont “volunteers/redshirts” and southern Italian “volunteers” that had made King Victor’s entrance and tactical victory over the Bourbons possible. These men had fought, died and endured against the Bourbon army at great personal sacrifice in the sincere belief that they were fighting for a new Republic of Italy. Further, these men had every reason to expect from promises made by Garibaldi and his agents that there would be a place for them in the new Republic, including the new Army of the Republic. In addition many of the “volunteers” expected pardons for those who had been branded outlaws by the repressive Bourbon regime.
History attests that these promises made by Garibaldi in the King’s name would not inure to the many “volunteers” that had fought so valiantly. A question exists as to when Garibaldi became aware that his promises to the men that had followed him in the south would not be honored. Was it a convenient and politically expedient lie by Garibaldi and his agents from the outset? Was it a political strategy developed by Piedmont only after victory in the south seemed achievable? Or was it a position thrust upon Garibaldi by the King and some of his advisers only after the King’s arrival in Campania?
Unfortunately, like so many issues connected with the military campaign against the Bourbon’s every event is loaded with political intrigue and misinformation. The net effect is to make an accurate reading of history and the politics of the moment impossible. Riding on that missing accuracy is the true character and nature of the major players. The “official” interpretation of events is that Garibaldi learned of Piedmont’s change in attitude toward the volunteers when he met with King Victor Emmanuel II either on October 26th in northern Campania or before the coronation on November 8th. This suggestion of events comes primarily from anecdotal sources and Garibaldi’s behaviors following the meeting on the 26th and November 8th. But there are no official transcripts of the meetings and the actions of the King and Garibaldi can also led to other conclusions as well.
In looking at what is known of Piedmont’s plan was for the southern Republican insurgents from the perspective of the King’s ministers must also be factored in. Clearly, discussions regarding what to do with the volunteer “insurgents” was discussed at the highest levels of the Piedmont government. King Victor Emmanuel’s actions on the 26th and November 8th were well planned with an obvious degree of political forethought. The actions taken were certainly not spontaneous decisions.
The first place of major discrepancy appears is in the “official” version of what was taking place is the “official” position accredited to Cavour. That position being absorption of the army of the south. Throughout the campaign of Garibaldi in the south, Cavour is the Piedmont minister who “distrusts” Garibaldi and the “young Italia” Mazziians that make up much of his “insurgent” force in the south. Of course, one of the great concerns was that the complete defeat of the Papal States is a cornerstone of the long standing Mazzinian plan to create a secular, unified and republican government in Italy. Garibaldi’s intention/recommended battle plan in the south is to defeat the Bourbons and then launch an attack against the Pope and the Papal States. Cavour was consistently both opposed and alarmed at this as it would likely force France and possibly Austria to enter the conflict thus risking the loss of all that had been gained. So it is hard to reconcile Cavour’s consistent alarm at the intentions of Garibaldi and Mazzini with his “official” historical position on the treatment of Garibaldi’s “insurgent” volunteers in the south. In fact Cavour’s concerns were more than justified by the international political moves taking place at the time. As Austria and France were both on the edge of intervention.
To start the discussion regarding what was taking place it is opined by George Trevelyn that Cavour’s original plan regarding what to do with Garibaldi forces was as follows;
“It had been Cavour’s original intention to divide the Garibaldini into three sections. The first and far the largest to be disbanded at once with a gratuity for each man; the second to constitute a separate volunteer division of the army under the title of Cacciatore delle Alps, the third to consist of a small number of officers to be given commissions in the regular army. But this plan was not carried out”. Page 280 “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy”.
This is an interesting plan, if in fact it was ever seriously considered. Most of the 40,000-60,000 southern campaign volunteers would be discharged with some payoff to return to their homes and villages. This probably made sense since most of these men were farmers who wanted to go home and not become soldiers. Those men that seemed qualified and interested in becoming enlisted soldiers or officers would serve in a segregated unit of the army under Piedmont officers and those that were qualified as officers would be integrated throughout the regular army. It is a plan that contemplated Piedmont dominance of the force but is inclusive and respectful of those that had served. Had this plan been implemented it would have been interesting as to the effect it might have had on the south. In essence it would have brought those who had labored for unification in partnership with the military forces of Piedmont.
However, as stated the plan was abandoned. I believe that the reason for the abandonment was a fundamental distrust of the intentions of the Mazzinians within the ranks of the southern army and its loyalty to Garibaldi. As late as October 8th 18 days before King Victor Emmanuel’s arrival near Capua and Gaeta Cavour was counseling for at least a gracious handling of the disbanding of the insurgent force. In a letter from Cavour to minister Farini who was with the King Cavour wrote;
“If Garibaldi’s army acclaims the King, it must be treated well. We have to contend against the requirements and pedantries of the regular army. Do not give in. Reasons of State of first importance demand firmness. Woe to us if we show ourselves ungrateful to those who have shed their blood for Italy! Europe would condemn us. In the country there would be great reaction in favor of the Garibaldini. I have had a warm argument with Fanti on that point. He spoke of military requirements. I replied that this is not Spain, and that here the army had to obey”. Pages 277-278, “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy”.
Again, there is abundant suggestion that the advisors to the King, chief among them Cavour did not trust the loyalty or intentions of the southern insurgent army. They were not even clear if the army/Garibaldi would “acclaim” the King.
By the 26th of October, even after Garibaldi had delivered his allegiance in the field to the King, it was already decided that he and his men had to be removed from the front. Garibaldi, accepted the order to withdraw the majority of his front line forces to Caserta.
The manner in which the withdrawal was handled by Garibaldi however draws into question whether Garibaldi engaged in active complacency with the breach of honor and respect for the very men he led. Also was Garibaldi fully aware of the distrust that the Piedmont advisors and possibly the King held for him and his men.
At Garibaldi’s first meeting in the south with King Victor Emmanuel II at “Taverna la catena” on October 26, 1860 Garibaldi received two important orders from the King and he intentionally kept those orders secret from his men. Those two orders were that his forces were to be withdrawn “permanently” from the front lines to the Bourbon palace grounds. In addition, Garibaldi knew as of that date, at least, that his overall command of any “insurgent” forces remaining temporarily at the front near Capua, was to be replaced by General Della Rocca. His knowledge and complacency can be confirmed by a reported conversation on the October 27th with Jessie Mario;
“Next morning they met with Jessie Mario, who had crossed the Volturno to provide hospital arrangements north of the river. “My wounded,” said Garibaldi to her somewhat sternly, “are all on the south of the Volturno”. And then relapsing into his gentlest mood, he added, “Jessie, they have sent us to the rear” (‘ci hanno messi alla coda”).
To this we can add the following analysis of how the transfer of power and control of the insurgents was managed.
“ His, (Victor Emmanuel’s), army was there divided into two, one part going on towards the line of the Garigliano and Gaeta, and the other under General Della Rocca coming south to besiege Capua. Della Rocca had to negotiate a delicate situation with Garibaldi. Although the redshirts were no longer to be allowed to take part in the serious operations of the campaign, yet on October 28 their services were still required for yet a few days longer to help guard the lines for the royal siege batteries. Garibaldi, fearing that his men might be annoyed at receiving orders from Della Rocca if they considered that a slight was being put upon themselves or their chief, not only placed the whole of his army at the absolute disposal of the Piedmont general, but was at pains to devise a plan whereby Della Rocca’s orders were conveyed to the redshirts through Sirtori, as though they were still came from Garibaldi himself. He strictly enjoined on his staff to prevent the men from knowing that the orders did not emanate from him. Shaking his supplanter warmly by the hand, he wished him luck, and rode off to Caserta”.
It then becomes clear that by the 28th Garibaldi in full in on the Piedmont transfer of power and is hiding the fact from the men he led.
During the last days of October and the first few days of November the Piedmont regulars were able to capture Capua and the strategic positions around Gaeta. At this point King Francis and his remaining loyalist forces were surrounded on land and at sea by the Piedmont army and navy. Even the most ardent Bourbon loyalist surrounded on all sides would have been forced to conclude, once bombardment commenced that their position was hopeless.
Photograph of the fortress at Gaeta
However the meeting with the King occurs at precisely the time when the international politics that Cavour was concerned with peaked. First, Napoleon III’s French fleet arrived off Gaeta and positioned itself to block the Piedmont fleet from bombarding the Bourbon fortress. This had the additional effect of extending the possibility and therefore the morale of the Bourbon’s that the French might finally intervene on their behalf.
At about the same time the Emperors of Austria and Russia and the King of Prussia met in a conference in Warsaw on the question of intervening in the Italian War. If this occurred Cavour had no doubt that Piedmont’s grip on its northern territories, at least, might once again be lost and Italian national unity destroyed by foreign intervention.
The international brinkmanship only began to resolve in favor of Piedmont when England decided to side and support Piedmont’s or as they referred to it Sardinia’s position and the cause of Italian Unity in the face of the Russian, Prussian and Austrian threat. That support from England was transmitted through its foreign Minister Lord John Russell. On October 27, 1860 Lord John issued a pronouncement of the English Government’s position on Italy;
“Her Majesty’s Government must admit that the Italians are the best judges of their own interests. It is difficult:, he proceeded, “to believe, after the astonishing events that we have seen, that the Pope and the King of the Two Sicilies possessed the love of their people.” Therefore, “Her majesty’s Government can see no sufficient ground for the severe censure with which Austria, France, Prussia and Russia have visited the acts of the King of Sardinia. Her Majesty’s Government will turn their eyes rather to the gratifying prospect of a people building up the edifice of their liberties, and consolidating the work of their independence”. Page 282, “Garibaldi and the making of Italy”.
Faced with England opposition, Russia, Prussia and Austria ultimately decided on a course of non-intervention. Piedmont learned that the threat of foreign intervention from the three countries above was over in early November, which left only France’s intervention to deal with. As an interesting side note to the Conference held by Russia, Prussia and Austria there was the contemporary political analysis and critique authored by Karl Marx and published in Berlin on September 17, 1860 prior to the meetings ultimate conclusion that discusses the issues at play from Marx’s perspective.
Since France’s navy was at least partially blocking final victory over the Bourbons at Gaeta, Piedmont decided on a course of delay in the assault of Gaeta. Instead it took the opportunity presented to further formal consolidation of power and legitimization of the new Government of the peninsula. Again it is interesting to observe Garibaldi’s role in the consolidation of power and the treatment of his southern insurgent forces during that formal process.
As I have said, Garibaldi’s forces in the south numbered between 40,000 and 60,000 men. Of those approximately 15,000-20,000 were made up of non-southern Italians and foreign “volunteers”. That left about 30,000-40,000 southern volunteers which included about 20,000 with him and another 20,000 scattered throughout the south and Sicily. By the first week of November approximately half of his total force was encamped at Caserta.
France/Napoleon III’s principle concern was to block the Mazzinian element from attacking the Papal States and the Pope. Napoleon feared a religious based backlash in France, a mostly Catholic country, if he allowed the Italian cause to press unification by attacking the Papal States. His fleet’s presence not only prohibited the final defeat of the Bourbon’s but threatened the possibility that France would intervene on the Bourbon regime’s behalf. In other words they were asserting leverage with the Piedmont King and against the ambitions of the Mazzinians. It is very likely that the price of final victory against the Bourbons was the elimination of the threat. This was to be accomplished by the dismissal of Garibaldi from the theater of operation and the disbandment of the southern army which was viewed as too Mazzinian to fully control. As I said the matter played out in an interesting way.
Garibaldi, encamped at Caserta received word that the King would arrive on November 6th to formally greet Garibaldi and review his troops. As can be imagined there was great excitement among the ranks as they prepared to march in review before their new King. That excitement and pride was probably enhanced given the ceremony was to take place at the location of the old King’s most magnificent palace. On the morning of November 6 the preparations were in place and the army assembled. Without word, excuse, or explanation the King never arrived leaving the entire army dressed in its finest abandoned on the parade grounds. This was a major public insult to the army of “volunteers” and to Garibaldi. In fact, the only acknowledgement that these men had essentially won for Victor Emmanuel II the unified crown of Italy was a hastily drawn up “order of the Day” thanking the men for their service and signed not by the King or even General Fanti but instead signed by the lesser ranking General Della Rocca.
Later on the same day General Cialdini arrived at Caserta having been dispatched by the King and Fanti to request Garibaldi’s presence on the next day to accompany King Victor Emmanuel II’s triumphant march into Naples. This was not an invitation that included Garibaldi’s troops. The failure to include any of the elements of the southern army in the entourage of the King was again an intentional decision. This then constituted the second affront to the men and army that had won the real victory in the south in two days and at the moment of the grand pronouncement of unification.
I will convey the author of “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy’ reference to Garibaldi’s response to the order of attendance to the King to get the way it has generally been depicted in traditional histories;
“It was very desirable that the Dictator should appear at Victor Emmanuel” s side, for if it became known that he had absented himself with a grievance, it was doubtful what sort of reception the Royal party would obtain.
There would indeed have been a fair case for him to refuse to enter Naples with the King who had failed his appointment at the review. But he liked Cialdini well, and after some demur, and a good deal of strong language against Fanti and Cavour, he finally consented to go”. Pages 279 and 280.
Garibaldi dutifully accompanied King Victor Emmanuel’s triumphant entry into Naples on the morning of November 7, 1860. Following the triumphant arrival history records that Garibaldi and the King met privately for many hours on November 7th. What was really discussed at that meeting and how it was presented is scantily documented by official records. Garibaldi’s memoirs suggest that he pressed for the continuation of his army, that all the men that served with him or who had been imprisoned as outlaws and political prisoners of the Bourbons be pardoned, that the King remain in southern Italy for at least a year in order to consolidate his authority and the unification cause, and that Garibaldi remain as the King’s advisor and second in command in the south.
What was actually decided by King Victor Emmanuel II was that on November 8, 1860 King Victor Emmanuel II installed in the Bourbon Palace in Naples. The King would formally be presented with the results of the October southern Italian Plebiscite which ratifyied annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with Piedmont-Sardinia. The presentment of the papers certifying the outcome of the Plebiscite vote would be presented by the ministers of the south, not by Garibaldi. After the presentment King Victor Emmanuel II would formally be crowned with the Kingship of Sicily and Naples in the throne room of the Bourbon palace in Naples. It should be noted that at this point although the Bourbon forces and King were surrounded at Gaeta, their position hopeless, they nevertheless had not surrendered. Technically they were still the established regime of the Kingdom.
Garibaldi and his senior staff officers would be permitted to attend the coronation but had to sit separate from the Piedmont army officers and the various dignitaries of the Kingdom. Although he was Dictator of the South in the name of Victor Emmanuel II Garibaldi held no major role in the ceremony of coronation.
Immediately following the coronation of King Victor Emmanuel II, Garibaldi was to present the King with his resignation as Dictator, which he did, and was ordered to prepare to leave Naples and southern Italy the following day. It was arranged that he would return to the island of Caprera therefore as a private citizen without title and more importantly without rank or command.
As to the Garibaldian army of the south, it was to be dismissed from service immediately with a “generous” stipend given to each soldier by a grateful King. As I wrote above, the southern army consisted of between 40,000 and 60,000 men a third of which were non-southern Italians. Many of those redshirts from the north had in fact previously been in the Piedmont army. A committee was set up on which Sirtori, Medici and Consenz did have seats to review applications by the former volunteers, especially those that held the rank of sergeant or above with a commission in the King’s army.
There were about 7,000 “officers” in Garibaldi’s force with a ratio of 7 enlisted men to each commissioned and non-commissioned officer. As I said a third or 15,000 to 20,000 were northern volunteers many of whom were Mazzinian/Young Italia sympathizers. Of the remaining 25,000-40,000 southern volunteers about 5,000 were former Young Italia revolutionaries who had been imprisoned or were declared “brigands” under the Bourbon regime who expected pardons and opportunities to freely reintegrate into their societies after unification.
There were only a small number, about 500 “officers” and corresponding enlisted men who were actually retained in the Piedmont army immediately after the coronation. It should be noted that among them were the Hungarian volunteers and officers who had served Garibaldi. Over the course of the next three years it is estimated that about 1600 “officers” were re-integrated into the new Italian Army.
It is likely that dismissing Garibaldi and his army if nothing else sent an international message, especially to France, that King Victor Emmanuel was firmly in charge. It also sent a message that there would be no rogue army threatening the Papal States.
However if this was the reason for the King’s behavior it was somewhat frustrated by Garibaldi’s first act as a “private” citizen which may also show the degree to which internal political conflicts still existed between the Mazzinians and the KIng. Garibaldi’s first act as a private citizen on November 8, 1860 was to call for;
“all Italians to rally round Victor Emmanuel, and to be prepared to follow him next spring, a million strong, against Rome or Venice. “By the side of the Re galantuomo,” he wrote, “every quarrel should disappear, every rancor be dissipated”.
So clearly, by design or by conspiracy with the King Garibaldi was signaling the war was not over. He left the possibility in his letter to the people that while he supported the King, that a new campaign was still on the table either against the Pope or Austria in the spring.
What was of most significance to ordinary Lucanians, our ancestors at the time, was that several thousand Lucanians who had fought for decades for expansion of rights and a new republic had not personally gotten the respect that they envisioned. Their decades long effort which had labelled them “brigands” and outlaws by the Bourbons had not been recognized or common perception of criminality lifted by the new regime. They returned home from service with questionable legal status. Without a pardon from the new King their legal fate and future treatment within the new society was uncertain. But as of mid-November 1860 the pressing matter for the new regime was the final ouster of the old regime still entrenched at Gaeta.
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