Piedmont-Sardinia Declares War on Greater Lucania
By: Tom Frascella July 2016
The above article Title is something you will only read on this site. That a war was declared in Italy against its own largely unarmed civilian southern population has always been a closely guarded secret. “Unification” is largely projected in traditional Italian histories as something that was over-whelming desired by the peninsula as evidenced by the plebiscite votes. That any part of Italy rose up against the denial of civil liberties and blatant imposed government corruption has been white washed for a century and a half. These policies of the newly united Italy resulted in revolt in Lucania and elsewhere in the south almost immediately after imposition. For 150 years since the revolt which started just two months after the seating of the first unified Parliament, Italian history has denied its causes, the true nature and suppression employed against the civilian population of the south. By never calling the insurrection a protest reaction to injustice the Piedmont monarchy could conveniently ignore the larger political implications of their policies in the south. By labelling the insurgents bandits/outlaws the atrocities committed in the repression could be declared restoration of civil order not political repression. Beyond that, by refusing to call its actions a war upon the south the Piedmont government could claim that such an act of repression and atrocity did not exist. Yet it is a fact, that the Piedmont-Sardinia government waged a war on the “people” of greater Lucanian from 1861-1880. As long as this fact continues to be ignored/suppressed/disguised both in Italy and America then the history of the mass exodus of 12 million southern Italians between 1860 and 1930 will never be understood or accurately depicted. What is worse the aftermath/damage of those events will never be adequately addressed and a healing process among Italians will never occur.
The mandate that I was given by the membership of the San Felese Society of New Jersey in 2007 was to write a history of the town of San Fele. Eventually that task would focus and explain the journey/migration of thousands of San Fele immigrants, starting in the late 1850’s to the Americas. In order to do that so that it can be properly understood I have to address the time frame/events in Italy when that immigration took place in detail. The characteristics of a mass population displacement event did not occur in a vacuum. For both the town of San Fele and the greater Lucanian region, the early 1860’s starts the beginning of that mass migration clock.
As stated the reasons for and the impact of our ancestors’ early migration have been largely ignored in the academic narratives, Italian and American. It has been ignored from both the perspective of the history of events that took place in Italy and the mass immigration narrative of their arrival in the U.S. The narrative is part and parcel of the events starting in 1861 that are referenced above. The events surrounding the war waged primarily in Basilicata in 1861-1880 have been so thoroughly ignored as to have created the illusion that the early Lucanian mass migration never took place. As a result two full generations of thousands of southern Italian immigrants, many if not most coming from Lucania, are hardly recorded even in American histories as having arrived, lived, started communities, and new lives in America. All of this long before the dawn of the 20th century. One could and should ask how and why these thousands of 19th century southern Italian immigrants have been so misplaced in the Italian-American narrative as to be invisible. To the extent that Italian immigration to the U.S. from 1850-1880 is written about at all it is generally described as a “northern” Italian” immigration, and the southern “refugee migration gets no mention.
I hope that in this and the remaining articles in this series I help revise the historic narrative to include these early Italian Lucanian immigrants and to offer a glimpse into the world as they knew it. This is a story about mid-19th century Lucania or for my purposes “greater” Lucania. Greater Lucania is the region of the southern Italian peninsula which is comprised of the hills, mountains and valleys of the southern Apennine Mountain range. It is essentially the central portion of the lower boot of Italy and is roughly one half of the land mass of the “boot”. Greater Lucania is far different in culture, geography and history from the other half of the boot comprised of the east and west coastal plains. Despite being half of the land mass, the rugged terrain presents difficult living, farming, transportation and economic conditions. The geography dictates that the population is small, poor, scattered and self-reliant.
As a result historically less than 20% of the southern Italian mainland population lived there in 1860. Since then the region has born the burden of the highest per capita outward immigration of any part of Italy. Today the region holds less than ten per cent of southern Italy’s population. As a result of this mass exodus the local population has remained either stagnant or bleed citizens for most if not all of the last 150 years. In 1860’s terms the southern mainland population was approximately 6 million with probably fewer than a million people living within “greater” Lucania. That population lived almost exclusively in rural communities of small and isolated hamlets, towns and villages. Few of its communities had populations exceeding 5,000 people. The region in fact supports only one small city Potenza which in 1860 had a population of about forty thousand or less.
Yet, despite or maybe because of its relatively small population this “greater” Lucanian region and its people were subjected to twenty years of military action by the Italian/Piedmont army. The ferocity of that military action can only be described as an exercise in the delivery of what General Sherman in the American Civil War called “total” war. War in this context is defined as not just an action against an armed opponent but war against the civilian population and its resources as well. Total war was indeed waged during that period by the Italian government against the population of greater Lucania, the armed and the unarmed, the young, the old, men, women, children and even the unborn.
Accurate accounts of the savage carnage visited on the greater Lucanian region were intentionally not kept by Italian government or military officials lest the world be appalled at the inhumanity inflicted on a defenseless civilian population. Estimates, range from as low as 80,000 killed to three times that number in a twenty-five year period. Even at the low end this number of killed exceeds the total deaths associated with all three Italian wars of “unification” and yet the enormity of this death total is ignored in the same way that the deaths of millions of Soviets by Stalin, Armenians by Turks or many genocidal atrocities. Atrocities on this scale are often lost to history by the perpetrating “authorities” ignoring/denying that they ever took place. So it has been in Italy. The extent to which the “unified” government was willing to go to put down any threat of insurrection by military action became evident very early. Some statistic that are available from the first nine months of conflict April-December 1861 in greater Lucania are as follows; 9,000 executions, 11,000 wounded/injured, including rape and 6,000 civilian arrests. This in a region that just four years earlier had suffered a catastrophic earthquake which killed 20,000 and injured at least as many.
During this same time the number of briganti/insurgents in greater Lucania rose from around 1,000 to its all-time 1861-1865 high of 2,000. Of that number of insurgents very few are part of the casualty statistic above as very few insurgents were killed, wounded or captured in the early part of the conflict. The insurgents employed hit and run tactics. The above casualties were predominantly civilian casualties inflicted by the Piedmont led army forces. Of note the Piedmont army force located in the south increased from 30,000 in April to 40,000 in the summer to 50,000 by the end of the year.
The questions for discussion that arise from the above events in this and subsequent writings on this site are as follows: First, how is it that the people of Lucania, the vast majority of whom had initially supported and fought for “unification” became the target of a “united” Italy’s military attack? Second, how is it that greater Lucania, which contained less than twenty per cent of mainland southern Italy’s population, became the battleground for war waged on civilians by Piedmont on the South? Third, why did a poorly armed and loosely organized band of government declared “briganti”, which never numbered more than 2,000 require ultimately 125,000 Italian soldiers to “pacify” and remain stationed for the better part of 20 years?
The Initial Target
As early as the arrival of King Victor Emmanuel II into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, concerns among Piedmont’s top advisors grew as to how to control and pacify the vast diverse population and geography of the Kingdom. Initially, pro Bourbon civil uprisings in northern Campania, coupled with control of over a concentrated population a million Neapolitans presented the most immediate threat to control. After the escape of 15,000 Bourbon soldiers to the papal territories forced near the end of the conflict this became an additional potential threat as well. The result was that Piedmont had to retain 30,000 badly needed regular troops in the south. These troops were concentrated primarily in Naples and northern Campania where the potential for insurrection was deemed the greatest.. In February 1861 it is estimated of 30,000 Piedmont soldiers stationed in the southern mainland. 25,000 were stationed in Campania including Naples and 5,000 mostly Hungarian mercenaries were dispatched in roving units throughout the rest of the lower boot of the peninsula.
Supplementing this manpower Piedmont was able to employ the notoriously corrupt Neapolitan officials with their all too cozy relationship with the Camorra to keep order in Naples. National Guard units in Naples were in fact largely composed of Camorra associated recruits. In northern Campania the military, through establishment of martial law was also able to impose order by repressive actions against any one believed sympathetic to the Bourbons. Summary executions were common following the Bourbon defeat in the northern Campania region. Local pro-Bourbon officials were replace with Piedmont sympathizers or those willing to be so employed. So, with these initiatives Piedmont was able to bring under control the areas that it perceived to be the greatest threat of uprising and which contained between 30 and 50 per cent of the southern mainland population.
Piedmont initially believed that a small force of about 5,000 Piedmont regulars supplemented with local National Guard units controlled by Piedmont officials could control the remaining 3 million southern mainland Italians from significant civil unrest. The reasons why Piedmont was confident that an undersized force was adequate amounted to dependence on three factors: regional diversity, poverty and lack of population centers.
In the mid-19th century there were significant perceived, even among southern Italians, cultural differences between coastal southern Italian population and their mountain folk cousins of greater Lucanian. Although in both areas the principle employment is agriculture the diversity and success of crops associated with each area is significantly different. Success, yield and crop diversity in coastal farming is far greater than production in the mountains. As a result poverty levels and the cultural responses to that poverty are much more extreme in mountainous Lucania. In fact for the past 500 years thru even to today greater Lucania is the poorest region per capita in all of Italy. The lack of economic resources coupled with the mountainous terrain has produced in greater Lucania an historic regionalization effect. This effect frequently interfered with people acting in concert or considering themselves as one people connected with the rest of southern Italy or Italy as a whole. This isolation and disassociation works both ways. For most Italians, even today the Lucania region is a mystery and the cultural norms of the area little understood. For Lucanians regional loyalty and association was to a town or village not to greater national unit. That sense of regionalization had traditionally kept Lucanians not only from a national identity but also from political cohesiveness. In a sense, my writing for a “San Felese” website 150 years after immigration occurred reflects how deep rooted the regionalization effect was in our ancestors. The Piedmontese were aware of this and counted on the regional divisions to make control easier. A fragmented society is easier to control and less likely to rise.
Poverty today is often looked at by sociologists as a cause of civil unrest. But in this article we are not talking of today’s perception. After hundreds of years of abject systemic rural agricultural poverty Lucanian peasants knew of no other life in the mid-19th century. They generally accepted that only the social elites would benefit largely from the fruits of their labor. It would probably be fair to say that poverty in the south had reached the psychological status of fate as perceived by the common man. The rebellions and political uprisings of the preceding seventy or eighty years had been a middle-class or upper-class based grab for power and constitutionally protected civil rights. The poor were never a significant part of the political dialogue. The commonly held belief among the poor was that whatever political changes might arise their plight/fortunes would probably not improve. As a result the uprisings were never populous movements and the poor largely stayed out of the conflicts. Therefore although there were 3 million southern Italians outside of Campania 70%-80% of them were the poor and traditionally “apolitical”. Piedmont took the historic perspective, that the peasants of the south were not political and therefore were no real threat to civil order. The peasants were initially considered by the political elite as a docile, backward, uneducated and simple folk who could easily be intimidated/manipulated or bent to the will of the authority as had always been the case.
Piedmont also correctly analyzed that most of the remaining population of the south, although better educated and wealthier, was anti-Bourbon and pro-unification. In addition they were spread out across a vast area, regionally divided with no history of centralized government or organization. In a process somewhat akin to how Piedmont controlled Naples, the new government under emergency powers placed in control of towns, villages and small cities throughout the south officials who could be influenced to submit to the dictates of the Piedmont officials. In other words while the small town officials might be local by birth they were agents of the Piedmont government first. In this way by depending on local resources even a small military force could control the vast southern landscape. If trouble arose Piedmont was confident that its’ agents would report information on hot spots and appropriate military support could be dispatched.
Becoming the Piedmont Military’s Target
As was touched upon in the previous article on the evolution of the term Briganti, by the end of the war with the Bourbon government there were literally no civilly disruptive local entities “briganti” within greater Lucania. Those that had opposed the Bourbon regime and supported Garibaldi and King Victor Emmanuel II, former briganti, had happily returned to their homes once the fighting had stopped. To the extent that there was any holdover disruptive activity in the region it was restricted to at most a few hundred disorganized and scattered ex-Bourbon soldiers hassling travelers in the mountains and stealing chickens and food from local farmhouses. In Lucania these men represented little threat to civil order and were more of an annoyance than anything else.
That changed in April 1861 when the Piedmont led local government in the south ordered those men formerly declared briganti by the Bourbon regime to report to their local authorities for arrest. Of course there was general outrage at this throughout Lucania. These men, approximately 2,500-3,500 had been promised pardons and rewards for service in helping to bring down the Bourbon regime. Suddenly they found themselves marked once again as criminals by a new regime that they had loyally help put in power. In my readings especially the autobiography of Carmine “Donatello” Crocco he indicates that as early as November 1860 he received information that at least as to him Piedmont authorities were going to seek his arrest. As a result, he resumed his life as a fugitive in the Lucanian hills in late 1860, earlier by months than most. But for most former briganti the official Piedmont policy did not formalize toward them until April 1861.
As indicated in the previous article these men were not anxious to report to stark unhealthy prisons as a reward for patriotism. Some, for a time, tried to remain under the radar in their isolated villages, some were arrested by local officials closely aligned to the new regime. Starting in April 1861 many would be forced once again to look to the mountains to escape arrest. I should point out that in a largely “unified” Italy these men did not have the option to flee to other parts of Italy.
Crocco fled to the familiar sanctuary of the forests of Monticchio in early 1861. An area that he had operated out of for most of the 1850’s. There slowly he accumulated a small band of some twenty fellow fugitives. A few of these men had fought with him and Garibaldi and had been Briganti under Bourbon rule, a few were ex-Bourbon soldiers and a number were young men seeking to avoid the Piedmont conscription orders of January and April 1861.
It is important to recognize that even as early as April 1861 some of the men joining Crocco in the hills of Basilicata were young men attempting to avoid the consequences of the Piedmont draft. As previously written conscription had essentially never been conducted under the Bourbon regime and southern Italy and Sicily had no history with such a government dictate. The initial Piedmont draft of January 1861 followed by the reissue in April met with little response in southern Italy. Young men simply for the most part ignored the order to report.
As Piedmont officials or those supporting Piedmont’s dictates tightened their grip on the communities of southern Italy some of the more aggressive municipal officials began to try to enforce the draft. Young men in these communities had limited choices. They could comply, they could refuse and be arrested, or they could flee either to the mountains, a common plan of escape for the peasant class which had limited resources, or they could escape the draft by leaving the country.
The Piedmont draft sought out younger recruits as they believed them more malleable to following orders. As a result it should not be surprising that a number of men, mostly young, found themselves fleeing from conscription into the mountains. However, in refusing to be drafted they too had made themselves, in the eyes of the Piedmont officials, “briganti”.
It was during the early months of 1861 that Crocco began resuming his Briganti lifestyle of petty theft to survive. During this period he had is first encounter with a small force of National Guard sent from Atella. Alerted to their approach Crocco and his small band of about twenty prepared for the encounter.
An exchange of fire occurred. Apparently Crocco men got the better of the exchange forcing the National Guard unit to retreat. Hardly a major encounter but in actuality the opening exchange of the greater conflict that followed. An underlying popular sense of displeasure among the ordinary citizens and many of the former elite of Lucania saw in Crocco’s repulsing of the Atella National Guard a victory over repression. Whether the fact that the Guard were made up primarily of ethnic Albanese added into the mix I do not know.
However his success did cause an ever growing number of men seeking sanctuary from Piedmont edicts either the draft or other edicts to gravitate toward him. As the number of men joining his band increased Crocco realized that the problem of feeding, clothing and arming the men was growing as well. Simple living off the land with occasional raids for money or food was not going to be sufficient to sustain larger numbers. In addition as his group grew and their raids increased the authorities were likely to be inclined to seek them out and arrest or kill them. Crocco knew that his band grew in numbers the authorities would be employing increasing numbers of National Guard and regular army for the task.
In April 1861 these freshly re-made Briganti with Crocco soon numbered around 200 and regionally, greater Lucania, probably numbered about 1,000-1,500. At this point except for those with Crocco, those scattered over the greater Lucanian landscape operated in small independent bands. As a whole whether with Crocco or not they were poorly armed if armed at all with no formal structure or organization as a force. Piedmont’s military assessment was that they could be rounded up with little exertion by the forces on hand. At this point they represented no real military threat to the regime in the minds of the military analysts. However, while the assumptions the analysts relied upon were generally valid they failed to take into consideration the changes in the region that had occurred after July 1860.
Lucanian Strategic Thinking
The most significant event that occurred in Lucania in relationship to what follows between Piedmont and the Lucanian people was the uprising against the Bourbons in July/August 1860. I think that it is underappreciated that Lucania was the only territory in southern Italy to independently declare its separation from the Bourbon Kingdom. It did that before Garibaldi had even landed on the southern mainland. Further it established its own provisional government and raised its own volunteer force to confront and defeat the Bourbon garrison soldiers in the Capitol of Potenza. These were acts of a decidedly independent, determined and already aroused anti-government people.
The timing of their uprising was of course not an accident. They were well aware that Garibaldi’s landing on the mainland was about to occur. They were also well aware that the greater political concern for the Bourbon military was Garibaldi’s expected assault. They could have waited until his landing to ensure that all of the Bourbon resources were directed toward that threat. However, they did not wait and successfully confronted the Bourbon forces in Potenza on their own. Further when the Bourbon high command sent 5,000 additional supporting troops to the region the Lucanians met that force with a 10,000 man, poorly armed but determined force of their own making and leadership. A force that by its ferocity stopped this new Bourbon advance at the border to the region. What I sense as important here are two things, the Lucanians’ ability/willingness to act independently against superior force and to act when the enemy was strategically disadvantaged. In the August 1860 scenario the Bourbons could not afford to send in too many troops against the Lucanians as the Bourbons were anticipating Garibaldi’s landing. The Lucanians realized that tactically a small force, or even one of equal size while less adequately armed could inflict massive casualties on a well-armed enemy in the mountainous terrain of Basilicata.
After Gatribaldi arrived in the region they supported him and volunteered for service with his insurgent army. Garibaldi could have taken the entire Lucanian force into his “redshirts” and probably could have obtained twice that number of volunteers over the next few months. However, he instead culled the initial force of 10,000 down to 3,500 whom he considered the best fighters. A significant part of the willingness of the Lucanians to be recruited to the Piedmont/Garibaldi cause was the amnesty and promise of commissions that Garibaldi made to the briganti leadership.
As a consequence of serving with Garibaldi the “elite” volunteer Lucanian forces formed a new command structure. In the fighting against the Bourbon army this force experienced, first hand, how an undersized irregular force could operate and defeat a superior well trained, armed force. Garibaldi for all of his positives and negatives was a master of guerilla warfare tactics. I believe those hard earned lessons from the battlefield were not lost on the hundreds of Lucanians who in April 1861 suddenly found themselves labelled the “briganti” of the Piedmont regime.
From the Lucanian-Briganti-Crocco”s perspective, the Piedmont forces in southern Italy had several tactical disadvantages which mimicked the Bourbon army’s limitations just before Garibaldi’s arrival. As previously stated the Piedmont army although numbering about 30,000 in the south in April 1861 had in fact only about 5,000 of those men spread across most of the rest of rural mainland south. That was a force small enough to successfully work against as clearly they could not be everywhere at once in an area such as Bsilicata. The fact that the Piedmont army in the region was supplemented by local National Guard of dubious training and commitment was not deemed to be a major concern by Crocco. Crocco correctly believed that the Lucanian peasantry, including many men in the National Guard, would more likely support his men, overtly or secretly, rather than the Piedmont officials.
But the Lucanians also knew that there was an additional political opportunity, nationally and internationally that Piedmont had to contend with. By April 1861 the Piedmont army, while still trying to implement a national conscription, only numbered about 80,000 to 125,000 men. This was not an army adequately sized to realistically press Piedmont’s ambitious unification goals of acquiring the Venetian and Papal States. Most of the better Piedmont troops were required as a buffer to discourage Austria from asserting any interest in expanding or regaining its territories in northern Italy. In other words those troops were required to be stationed in northern Italy. In addition most of the 30,000 Piedmont troops in the south had to remain in Campania, a hedge against civil disorder and the threat of Bourbon inspired revolt from Rome. The deficiency of military assets was not strategically lost on Crocco.
A Battle Plan
According to Crocco’s own account once his force, or at least those looking to him for leadership, had reached about 200 men he decided that aggressive action was his best option. The reason for this was clear to Crocco who had survived long stretches in the mountains, as a hunted fugitive, in his past. The briganti could survive in the mountains living mostly off the land in small numbers scattered throughout greater Lucania. Their petty crimes necessitated by survival would be largely ignored by the authorities. However, when their numbers in a locale grew too large their deeds more frequent a need would arise for local authorities to address the rising crime rate. Crocco with about 200 men following him knew that the authorities, including regular Piedmont army units would soon be employed to track his band down. His only hope of survival was to put the military forces including the local National Guard units in a defensive posture and to secure if not the support at least fear of his reprisals from the local population if he was betrayed.
On April 7, 1861 he and his men left the sanctuary of the woods of Monticchio and attacked the small town of Lagopesole and its National Guard garrison. Then, as today Lagopesole is a town of only a few hundred people best known for its ancient castle enlarged by Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century.
Photograph of the Castle at Lagoposole
Lagopesole was ideally suited for a first strike target as it was lightly defended and had a small population. It is here that certain patterns which became hallmarks and shaped the conflict began to emerge. The local National Guard garrison, a few dozen at most, upon seeing the approach of 200 men fled to what they hoped was the relative safety of the fortress. After a few shots were fired they agreed to surrender on condition that they would not be harmed, a promise Crocco easily accepted. Upon taking the town of a few hundred most of the townsfolk came out and cheered his men as heroes. Crocco for his part made an example of the Piedmont leadership of the town by killing the local officials and looting their houses. The booty distributed among his men. In addition, Crocco made a priority upon taking control of the village to open the prison and free all prisoners. He also became the beneficiary of the weapons, ammunition and supplies of the local National Guard unit.
Whether planned by Crocco or a spontaneous display by the townspeople they cheered Crocco’s arrival in the name of Bourbon King Francis II, which he encouraged. Crocco boldly spent the first night of the campaign in the ancient Norman fortress at Lagopesole to show both triumph and defiance of the Piedmont authority. He then went decidedly further from a political point of view. According to his memoirs he had the secret support of many of the noble and elite houses of the region who had not fared well under the new unified order. These men longed for the privileges they had benefitted from under the Bourbon regime. I think in deference to them he tore down the Piedmont tri-color and ordered the Bourbon flag raised. However, by adopting this position he basically was waving the red flag of counter-revolution in the face of the Piedmont authorities. As we have seen when this happened, the threat of pro-Bourbon insurrection in northern Campania the Piedmont reaction was swift and murderously repressive.
Crocco was far from finished, he left Lagopesole for neighboring Ripacandida on the morning of April 8th. Although his force probably numbered fewer than two hundred briganti at the outset of this campaign he began to be joined by others as he progressed in central Basilicata. Even at the outset, before there were many victories there were marked popular support demonstrations in the countryside for his actions. Many of these demonstrations took on pro-Bourbon aspects.
In addition to the fact that Carmine Crocco was a native Lucanian born and raised in the region in which he now fought he understood the tactical significance of the region. The Romans, Hannibal, Spartacus, Otto the Great, the Normans etc. all understood the significance of the region to controlling Basilicata. All of the major passes through the Apennine Mountains converge in central Basilicata near the major towns of Melfi and Venosa. The ancient town of Venosa was the major stop for travelers using the Roman Appian Way for 1,800 years. Control of this area basically allows the possessor to control passage through the southern Apennines and also effectively isolates the east and west coasts of the southern peninsula breaking the connection of the coastal plains. In addition control of the passes allowed Crocco’s force to use mountain passes to emerge at will against any community of their choosing. So it appears that Crocco’s strategy from the get go was to go right to the heart of the region. He knew that doing that would force a Piedmont reaction but also knew they lacked the troops to effectively confine him and his men who had superior knowledge and experience in the local terrain.
At Ripacandida, Crocco and his men again met brief resistance from the National Guard garrison which ultimately retreated. The town officials again suffered the same fate as at Lagopesole and the pattern established in Lagopesole was continued. From there it was on to the large town, 8,000 people of Venosa. Crocco and his men arrived there on April 10, 1861.
By the time he reached Venosa his force numbered about 400 and had acquired the weapons of the garrisons that had surrendered. The National Guard garrison at Venosa had received reinforcements from Avigliano. Local Piedmont officials were clearly alarmed at the growing threat. As early as the 10th local officials were trying to deal with the escalation and word was filtering back to Naples. Part of that message was the inability of the local National Guard units to stop the growing uprising. Without going into protracted detail about Crocco’s campaign and its early successes I think that it would suffice to say that Venosa fell on April 10th and Melfi the county seat on April 15th.
Photograph of the castle at Melfi
So by April 15th Crocco had what appeared a populist pro-Bourbon uprising started and had occupied the key transportation center of the region all with a force of under 500 men. While this might suggest that Crocco was a very good tactician he clearly had a flawed sense of Piedmont’s reactionary attitude.
In fact, when he successfully took Venosa and Melfi he went further than his previous pro-Bourbon pronouncements and actions. What he did was declared a provisional junta. In so doing he was unilaterally escalating the situation into a conflict for independence or at least a counter-revolution which was at least nominally pro-Bourbon. Piedmont’s reaction to this was very swift.
By April 17th word reached Melfi that Piedmont regular troops were ordered into Lucania with a plan to converge on his position in Melfi. According to sympathizers, some of whom were in the National Guard Piedmont was sending in troops from three directions, Naples, Foggia and Bari. Crocco understood that his force was not sufficiently trained, equipped or organized to confront regular troops which had mounted units and artillery. He therefore reluctantly was forced to abandon Melfi with his men on April 18th, secretly heading through the mountains to the Avellino region of Greater Lucania. In all his actions had to this point all transpired over just an 11 day period.
By way of helping the reader identify Crocco’s early April movements I have included the map below. As the reader can see Crocco’s movements were confined to the Vulture region and northern Lucania to this point.
Map of the Venosa- Melfi region of Basilicata.
© San Felese Society of New Jersey
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