Piedmont-Sardinia Goes All-In Against the Bourbon Regime
By: Tom Frascella October, 2015
In traditional Italian histories regarding the Second War of Unification, the focus on Piedmont’s direct involvement, is often the moment of Garibaldi’s arrival unopposed in the City of Naples. This event is regarded as the event that “forced” Piedmont to directly engage its military forces in a southward thrust through the Papal States. From this point Piedmont’s direct involvement in the military aspect of the campaign becomes publicly clear and decisive. Prior to this time Piedmont had largely maintained the public position of non-involvement in Garibaldi’s actions in the south. As I pointed out however, Piedmont had all along been working in coordinated concert with Garibaldi’s forces which were largely made up of Piedmont’s military who had “mustered” out of the Piedmont army to maintain the deception of noninvolvement.
It is clear that the Piedmont regime, as a result of Garibaldi’s surprisingly rapid success, had for some time known that direct intervention by King Victor Emanuel II would be required to establish his personal authority over the south. Piedmont’s advisors knew that to leave the entire campaign to Garibaldi to win would create internal political issues which could affect “unification” under firm Piedmont authority. Such a division of political loyalties was not in Piedmont’s best interests. Cavour therefore had for some time been making diplomatic efforts that would allow for the direct military intervention by Piedmont in the collapse of the Bourbon regime. The principle purpose of the intensive diplomatic efforts had been to align France and Great Britain and provide international cover for Piedmont’s intended acts. Prior to the fall of Naples there was credible international concerns from non-aligned nations about what some nations viewed as a declaration of war between Piedmont and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Whether this declaration was made officially or not it constituted a level of aggression by Piedmont-Sardinia that could bring the entire Italian Peninsula into conflict. The principle concern was the reactions of the remaining two other stake holders on the Italian peninsula Austria and the Papal States to such aggression. If these two States reacted against Piedmont’s actions it might result in a broadening conflict which could bring much of Europe into the conflict as well.
By early September 1860 Piedmont already had a substantial military force stationed and participating covertly in the South. In all about 20,000 men on Sicily and another 16,000 with Garibaldi on the southern mainland. To that number it had an additional 70,000 men remaining in the North. Any direct large scale military involvement by Piedmont in the southern Italian conflict could only be accomplished on one of two ways. First Piedmont could continue to send troops by sea southward or it could march its forces southward. However, marching its forces southward would by necessity require Piedmont’s army to cross 200 miles of Papal States territory. In effect Piedmont would have to invade the Papal States before it could reach the territory of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
The first problem that had to be addressed in Piedmont’s planning of a southern campaign was what, if anything, Austria would do if a direct Piedmont military land route action in the South was initiated. Austria was a Catholic country with strong historic ties to both the Papal States and to the Bourbon regime. If Victor Emanuel moved his army south, would Austria move to protect one or both the Papal and the Bourbon regimes?
A political second concern for Piedmont was that in response to a Piedmont incursion southward, Austria might take advantage of Piedmont depleted local defenses in the north and invade Piedmont’s own northern home territory. In so doing Austria might attempt to regain much of the territory in northern Italy it had lost in the 1858-1859 war with Piedmont.
It is clear that by early September, prior to the fall of Naples, Piedmont’s plan of action was fully developed and its allies in the plan France and England were on board. Further that while Garibaldi is often cast as the outsider to Cavour’s political intrigues, he was in fact aware of the overall design of Piedmont’s war plans and its timing. In fact Piedmont was relying on Garibaldi’s successes as the excuse for their intervention.
First, Piedmont would publicly leverage the aggressiveness of Garibaldi and the well-known Mazzinian focus on an attack against the Papal States to their diplomatic own advantage. Piedmont could cast its own aggression southward through “only” part of the Papal States as the “moderate” alternative to an all-out threat by Garibaldi. Papal control of Rome could be left intact under their plan as opposed to being lost if garibaldi and his forces headed toward Rome.
Second, in a thrust southward Piedmont knew it would have to leave enough of a force behind to discourage Austria from an offensive against Piedmont’s northern borders and cut of a seaward opportunity for Austria to supply Papal forces. This meant a campaign southward in which approximately 35,000 Piedmont troops were left behind to defend Piedmont’s homeland. In addition half of the remaining Piedmont force of 35,000 would be occupied in denying the Papal State port of Ancona to Austrian use. A final blow against the Bourbon regime would therefore require that both Garibaldi’s force of 20,000 and Piedmont’s reduced forces of 17,500 would have to link up in the final thrust in northern Campania.
A third element of the Piedmont/Cavour’s plan of military action required that the Piedmont army succeed in the Papal territories while reaching northern Campania in a month or less. Time was considered critical if the plan was to succeed. Piedmont believed that it must reach Campania before Austria could muster any military re- reaction.
On September 11th King Victor Emanuel II leading approximately 35,000 troops began his own campaign southward by invading Umbria and the Marches in a two prong assault on the Papal territory.
One prong of the attack was directed at the goal of capturing the port of Ancona on the Adriatic coast. This prong was led by Piedmont General Cialdini commanding half of the invasion force or 17,500 men. As stated above the importance of this port was to deny Austria a landing site should they enter into the conflict to aid the Papacy. Ancona was the port most available to the Austrians should they determine to send aid. By capturing Ancona, Piedmont would prevent Austria’s aid to the papacy by sea.
In light of the King Victor’s timing and movements toward the south it is interesting to juxtapose the actions of Garibaldi during the same time frame of September 7-19th. By doing so, it becomes evident just how closely Garibaldi’s actions were coordinated with the force coming down from the north. Clearly, both campaigns were highly coordinated and working in flawless concert.
We know that Garibaldi arrived in Naples without waiting for any personal guard, instead relying entirely on the Neapolitan Guard for personal as well as city wide civil order on September 7th. Eventually by the 9th or 10th Turr’s 1,500 men from lower Campania and the Lucanian Brigade of 2,500 arrived to support him in and around Naples. However, the City remained relatively calm throughout. We also know that the Bourbon forces of about 6,000 men peacefully withdrew from the Neapolitan fortresses between September 8th and 12th. The bulk of Garibaldi’s forces some 16,500 men were coming up from Calabria but did not arrive in Naples until the 14th.
There were two other armed military bodies available to Garibaldi should he need support in Naples in early September. These included several Piedmont war vessels under the command of Admiral Persano and the 34 Neapolitan war vessels that had refused to follow King Francis when he left Naples. Instead most of the Neapolitan fleet elected to go over to Garibaldi’s side.
The fleet represented a significant force both in men and in mobile firing power. Therefore, it is interesting that just as King Victor Emanuel II was launching his military thrust southward from Piedmont on September 11th, Garibaldi turned over the entire Neapolitan fleet to the command of Admiral Persano. In effect he placed the fleet at the immediate disposal of the King for the support of his northern campaign should it be needed. Yet, the northern campaign had only just begun on the 11th so where was it to be used and when. . That question was immediately answered as Admiral Persano immediately took the fleet out of the Bay of Naples on September 11th. He set course for the Adriatic coast and the port of Ancona. So it is clear that the actions of Garibaldi and Admiral Persano were accomplished with the intent to place the enlarged Piedmont fleet where it could effectively block or intimidate any Austrian naval movement or attempted landing by sea at Ancona. This could only have occurred if both Admiral Persano and garibaldi were aware of Piedmont’s campaign strategy.
The combination of the then existing Piedmont navy with the acquired 34 vessels of the Neapolitan fleet gave Piedmont the naval advantage io the newly created combined fleet. This fleet instantly became the largest naval power along the Italian Peninsula.
A separate result of bolstering the Piedmont navy was that De Rohan’s rag-tag transport fleet upon which Garibaldi had relied early on in his southern campaign became irrelevant to future military actions. This would have devastating effect on De Rohan’s personal finances going forward as he had signed on personally in the purchase of several of the ships that had been used. Further, due to the odd seamanship of Nino Bixio, Garibaldi’s second in command in Sicily and the landing in Calabria, two of De Rohan’s transport vessels had been lost. The financial straits of De Rohan would have interesting future consequences as events took shape in Italy and America.
At some point between September 11 and September 14th an interesting event took place with regard to the Lucanian Brigade garrisoned outside of Naples. Originally some 2,500 strong they were positioned to provide a military support to Garibaldi’s presence within the City. These men were not considered a cohesive force but rather “irregular” volunteers. They had participated thus far in Garibaldi’s campaign in Campania without actually engaging in combat and were thus untested. While control of the passes and movement of revolutionary forces within Basilicata aided Garibaldi in his “psychological” warfare games against the Bourbons it had been accomplished with little real bloodshed. Now however, as harvest season approached approximately 900 of the Lucanian volunteers quit their garrison posts and went back home. This may seem odd today but the behavior was not odd for the period during which we speak. Indeed in many revolutionary conflicts including America’s Revolution volunteer militias composed of farmers often would seek release from their units at harvest time. Often these men would be needed at home to bring in the harvests and their families had no replacement labor on which to draw. If they were not present the resulting loss of crop could bankrupt their families.
I suspect that the loss of 900 men probably reflects the number of men in the unit who were from agricultural or connected to agricultural occupations. Of the 1,600 that remained we probably get a better read on the number that were either Republican/unity inspired middleclass and those who had been on the run, “brigant”. These men had joined Garibaldi on a promise of pardon and or commissions in the new “Italian” Army.
At any rate Garibaldi’s main force finally arrived in Naples on September 14th. Garibaldi wasted little time once his command was reunited and on September 15th sent the bulk of this force together with Turr’s force and the remainder of the Lucanian and Calabrian brigades toward the defensive line the Bourbons had set up near Capua and Gaeta. The force he sent northward had a combined total of between 18,000 and 20,000 men. The Bourbon defensive line was relatively close to Naples existing a mere 18 miles away.
It should be noted that although the people of Naples had welcomed Garibaldi peacefully, their military participation on the side of garibaldi in the “war of unification” was muted at best. In this way his experience in Naples was very similar to his experience in the urban capital of Palermo. Like his experience in Palermo the citizens did not come over to the side of unification in any great numbers. When you consider that the Italian States of Calabria and Basilicata combined had populations equaling less than one million people. The fact that each State had seen 20,000-30,000 of its citizens’ rise up against Bourbon authority was significant. On the other hand the Provence of Naples which alone had close to one million residents. Therefore you might expect 40,000 to 60,000 volunteers joining or at least trying to join the unification cause. However there was no general outpouring to join Garibaldi’s troops to further press the military action against the Bourbon King. In fact when Garibaldi sent his forces northward on September 15th the force included fewer than 80 Neapolitan volunteers.
By sending the bulk of his force northward Garibaldi was in fact leaving the civil control of the City of Naples in the hands of Minister Romano and the Neapolitan National Guard. This was the only military or quasi military force left in the City. There was some boldness in such a move as Minister Romano had already changed sides once so if things went badly at Capua for Garibaldi he had a questionable force behind him.
Garibaldi’s force moving northward reached the outlying lines of the Bourbon army of some 45,000 men at Gaeta and Capua in less than a one day march of about eighteen miles. The defensive line that they reached had been well chosen as it had the advantage of both natural defensive terrain and the strongest manmade fortifications in the Bourbon Kingdom. In essence the Bourbon’s controlled the northern side of the Volturno River and Garibaldi’s forces took up positions on the southern side. From a populist position the northern Campania region contained far more Bourbon sympathizers in its population than was generally true in other rural areas of the Bourbon Kingdom.
But more importantly the Bourbon force manning those defenses at Capua and Gaeta were entirely different than the Bourbon army Garibaldi had previously encountered. Garibaldi had had the advantage of facing a Bourbon army thus far that was poorly lead in the field and controlled by Neapolitan ministers whose loyalties were very questionable. As a result moral was low and many of the conscripted recruits did not want to fight. But the remaining force while diminished in size was far more professional and dedicated to the Bourbon cause.
Garibaldi’s early campaign policy of allowing all captured or surrendering Bourbon soldiers a free pass home had worked effectively in causing large scale desertions. It had depleted the Bourbon forces and demoralized the army. But in removing all of the soldiers and officers who had no stomach to fight Garibaldi had created a new enemy force, while smaller, which was more potent and willing to fight. So in a sense Garibaldi was responsible for the renewed vigor of his enemy. Led by their King and with a new found purpose this force was radically different and more focused on the defense of the homeland.
Garibaldi understood that he lacked sufficient manpower and more importantly siege weapons to take on the powerful fortresses that the Bourbons were now entrenched in. However, he knew that he only needed to keep the Bourbon forces contained. Until the Piedmont army arrived and victory would be complete. By moving his entire force to the front he hoped that the threat of attack would keep the Bourbons contained. His greater concern was that the Bourbon forces would without some perceived pressure go on the offensive. Naples sitting only eighteen miles away was vulnerable and he had no way of knowing how the Neapolitans in the City might react to a Bourbon counter-offensive.
“By the middle of September his observations from the summit of Monte Tifata had shown him not only the uselessness for the time being of any attempt on his part to attack Capua, but the grave danger in which his own army would stand if general Ritucci ventured on a counter-attack.” “Garibaldi and the making of Italy” page 228.
Garibaldi’s intended strategy was to keep pressure on the Bourbon front by sending small feints and intrusions along the defensive line of the Bourbons but not to risk an all-out frontal assault;
“In order to distract the enemy’s attention from any such design, he sent a few hundred men under the Hungarian Csufady to the north-bank of the Volturno, with a roving commission to join with liberal insurgents anywhere between Alife and Cajazzo and Rome… With their help Csufady was to threaten the line of Ritucci’s communications behind Capua, and so prevent him from making a move forward. But Garibaldi had no intention of attempting to hold Cajazzo or any other post north of the river, still less of attacking the walls of Capua.” “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy” page 228.
As it was Garibaldi’s intention to engage in a holding action rather than an aggressive attack the Bourbons. With his attention against the Bourbons limited Garibaldi could turn his attention southward to Sicily. In Sicily his co-Dictator, or the Minister he had left in charge of civil administration, Depretis had continued to press and organize for a Sicilian vote on annexation to Piedmonte. Garibaldi, while in favor of the union continued to seek delay of the formal annexation for political leverage. Garibaldi and the pro republic Mazzinians continued to believe that the key to Italian unity was the capture of Rome and the end to the secular power of the Pope. To the Italians the seat of an Italian government had to be in Rome symbolically and psychologically. Further, the Popes had always broken the Italian peninsula’s ability to unify by calling in support of the Papal States from foreign Catholic monarchs. However, Garibaldi and the Mazzinians thought that Cavour’s strategy now in process of entering the Papal States and occupying some of the territory while leaving Rome untouched and in Papal control was wrong and would risk Austria’s involvement on the side of the Papacy. They felt that this would once again, as it had in the many Carbonari revolts, invite the eventual collapse of the republican movement and collapse of the independence of Italy as a unified national State.
However, interestingly, if a vote on annexation took place too early in the Piedmont military campaign then Piedmont’s argument that their military action was protecting Papal control in Rome from Garibaldi would disappear. So a real question as to what was really intended remains unclear.
At any rate Garibaldi was concerned enough about Depretis’ intent or potential independent actions that he was caused to leave the front withal of the potential risk and sail immediately to Sicily and Palermo on September 16th. He did so leaving Hungarian national Col. /General Istvan (Stephan) Turr in charge of his insurgent army of 20,000. Turr was not given any orders to initiate and offensive beyond the faints and flying detachments designed to harass the enemy positions and keep the Bourbons confined in northern Campania.
Garibaldi arrived at Palermo on September 17th and was greeted by a very warm and large public demonstration of affection from the citizens of Palermo. Garibaldi quickly moved to resolve his problem with his “co-Dictator” Depretis by replacing him with Antonio Mordini who Garibaldi believed would be more dependable and would follow Garibaldi’s instructions regarding the delay of formal annexation. The fact that Garibaldi could arrive and replace his “co-dictator” is an indication of just how unequal the “co-dictatorship” was.
It is during this time that half the advancing Piedmont force, 17,500 men, coming down from the north and bearing east to Ancona under the command of General Cialdini confronted a Papal force under the command of General Lamoriciere near the town of Castelfidardo on September 18th. The Papal force was made up partly of native Italians but primarily of foreign volunteers seeking to serve the Pope. The battle was ferociously fought on both sides. However the Piedmont forces won the day destroying the Papal army. In so doing they opened the way for the remaining half of the Piedmont army to advance southward. That advance was barred only by scattered Papal forces in small isolated fortress locations. The victory over Lamoriciere also opened the way to Ancona. This victory helped assure the Piedmont army would not have to contend with Austrian troops arriving to support the Papal States. The port was blocked by sea and land. This was great news for the Piedmont march south and pretty much assured the time table of advance that was anticipated in the planning of the campaign.
However, the victory also meant that the City of Rome was now open to direct assault and relatively unprotected. Since the Piedmont army made no thrust toward Rome it became clear to the international community that Piedmont was abiding by its stated intent not to directly confront the Papacy in Rome.
With the problem of immediate annexation of Sicily believed resolved and unaware for the moment of the defeat of the Papal forces Garibaldi headed back to Naples arriving on September 19th. Garibaldi had been absent from the front for just three days. In Garibaldi’s absence General Turr had devised a plan which was probably meant as a probe to test the resolve of the Bourbon troops at Capua. On the morning of the 19th as Garibaldi was arriving back in Naples, Turr sent out a reconnaissance in force against Capua. That attack forced the Bourbons garrison to flee Cajazzo a small town on the northern side of the Volturno without resistance. But as Turr’s men settled outside of the fortress at Capua they came under heavy fire from the Bourbons. The resulting two hour fire fight resulted in 130 of Turr’s men either killed or wounded. Turr’s force withdrew leaving about 300 men holding Cajazzo which was now isolated on the Bourbon side of the Volturno River. Garibaldi arrived back at the front on the afternoon of the 19th too late to witness the fire fight at the gates of Capua. He was there however in time to witness an exchange of cannon fire between Turr’s forces on the south side of the Volturno and a Bourbon battery on the north side of the river. The exchanges were meaningless. However, the continued occupation at Cajazzo by Garibaldi’s forces begged for a Bourbon counter attack. Garibaldi was too fine a strategist not to realize that a counter attack would come and that his men could not hold an isolated position like Cajazzo.
Rather than recalling the three hundred men at Cajazzo Garibaldi reinforced the town with six hundred additional troops. In so doing he place almost one thousand men, basically at the front gate of the fortress at Capua.
Photograph of General Istvan Turr
Although it is not known exactly, it appears that both Garibaldi and the Bourbons became aware of the Piedmont victory at Castelfidaro at some point during the fighting between September 19, and September 21st. This news was in fact a game changer for the Bourbons and any strategy they were hoping to employ. Realizing that the path southward was wide open to the advancing Piedmont regular army the Bourbon high command knew they no longer had the security of a northern Campania border protected by the Papal States. Their defensive positions around Capua and Gaeta, while strong could soon result, within two or three weeks, in being surrounded by Garibaldi to the south and King Victor Emmanuel II to the north. In addition while the Bourbons had approximately 45,000 men to Garibaldi’s 20,000 that advantage would soon disappear with the arrival of the Northern Piedmont army of between 17,000 and 35,000.
Against this new reality of a rapidly diminishing military position, decisive Bourbon action was needed. The events of September 19th showed that the will for such action among the Bourbon troops was still possible. Although the military exchange itself was inconclusive and minor, the implied threat by Turr’s force had roused the Bourbon command and troops to valiant action. Further exchange of artillery had confirmed that the Bourbon’s had superior artillery power and numbers. The outcome of the exchange between Garibaldi’s forces and the Bourbons was viewed favorably by the Bourbon troops, raising moral and confidence in their own capabilities.
Based upon all of the above considerations the Bourbon high command with the consent of King Francis gave the command to prepare for an offensive strike at Garibaldi’s line. The King issued his command on the evening of September 19th while the Piedmont northern army was still 200 miles away. The King’s orders were;
“That evening the Minister of War at Gaeta sent Ritucci the King’s orders, “to march forward, seeking to find and destroy the enemy and at the same time advance on the Capital.” Garibaldi and the making of Italy” page 231.
As an order it could not be clearer what King Francis wanted, a decisive blow that would result in the recapture of his Capital City. However, hesitation and failure to aggressively pursue the enemy once again plagued a Bourbon commander in the field, General Ritucci. He submitted a plan of attack as ordered to the King. It was however a plan that neither he nor the Bourbon war counsel liked. That plan was;
“ Ritucci thereupon set before the King a plan for the advance on the Capital by the country roads to the west of S. Tammaro, which passing through Arnone and Vico, Foresta and Casal di Principe, unite at Naples on the side of Capodimonte… But the plan was rejected as too dangerous by its author Ritucci, who opposed as still more rash the frontal attack on Santa Maria and Sant’ Angelo, recommended by the Royal counsellors at Gaeta.” “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy” page 231.
Ultimately both plans were rejected and once again a Bourbon commander would only recommend and convince the King to take a much more limited action than circumstances would seem to indicate;
“All that Ritucci would as yet consent to do was to recover Cajazzo. The Dictator made one military mistake of this year in not withdrawing from Cajazzo the 300 Bolognese under Cattabeni whom Turr had without consent placed in that isolated position across the river. Matters were made worse by the dispatch of another 600 men under Vacchieri, there were now 900 men collected in the hill-town to hold it” “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy” page 231.
Here I would disagree with the conclusion of the author of the book “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy”. I do not think Garibaldi made a mistake in either leaving or reinforcing the Cajazzo position. He was instead psychologically playing with his opponent. He knew the Bourbons would come out to retake the ground which Garibaldi’s puny force could not hold. Such a strike however would use up valuable time and effort that the Bourbons could not afford. Garibaldi was willing to use Cajazzo as bait, sacrificing men for time.
Ritucci was given permission to recapture Cajazzo and commenced his attack on September 21st. In the engagement approximately 7,000 of the best Bourbon troops confronted an isolated defensive Garibaldian force of 900. Garibaldi men were driven from the town suffering about 300 killed, wounded and captured. The Bourbon forces lost about 100.
Had the Bourbon commander then pressed a full attack against Garibaldi it is possible that they could have attained their goal of re-entry into Naples. However, once again the Bourbon commander Ritucci delayed further military action, satisfied with a minor victory rather than focusing on the big picture. Ritucci’s delay gave Garibaldi valuable time to continue to build up his defensive line. Garibaldi realizing that he needed to delay the Bourbons in their position for only about three weeks by which time he expected the arrival of the regular Piedmont army.
When the Bourbon’s were finally ready to attack Garibaldi’s defensive positions and drive toward Naples a sequence of battles and military skirmishes occurred between September 26 and October 2 that have become known collectively as the Battle of Volturno.
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