ROTONDA, SEPTEMBER 2, 1860
By: Tom Frascella September 2015
As previously written Basilicata was in a state of active persistent armed insurgency since the Great earthquake of December 1857. Although conducted by unassociated small rebel bands that insurgency suddenly became focused and concentrated in July and August of 1860. The result was that the forces of the insurgency struck out against Bourbon authority in a large scale attack capturing the State capitol of Potenza on August 17, 1860. In the three years of fighting since the great earthquake the insurgent bands had not previously attempted to attack or control any town or village within the State. So their sudden attack on the Capitol represented an unexpected, bold and unique escalation in tactic.
Although the insurgents where aware that Garibaldi, who was in Sicily, was planning a landing on the mainland their actions were not coordinated with that landing. They had no advance information as to where or when that landing might occur. As it turns out their attack on their Capitol was a full two days before Garibaldi’s landing on the southern mainland. In fact Garibaldi landed in Calabria quite some distance, a different State south west Basilicata.
In concentrating the insurgent bands and initiating their assault the insurgent force in Basilicata or Lucanians as they prefer to be known became the only southern Italian “Bourbon” territory to independently capture a Bourbon territorial capitol during the second war of unification. They also became the only insurgent force, by formal proclamation, to declare, under force of arms, the ending of the authority of the Bourbon regime following the capture of a Capitol city.
This little known initiative by the Lucanians is remarkable for several reasons which history has not discussed or appreciated. The treatises of latter chroniclers of the events of that time for many reasons down play the motivations and significance of this moment. Normally, it would be expected that such a daring move would be exulted as a Patriotic act. However, due to later developments such acts of patriotism by these southern Italians were ignored in the new Italy.
The first act of heroic patriotism should bare noting is that the insurgents were lightly armed. That is to say they had no modern weapons other than personal muskets. They had received no external support in their struggle from Piedmont, Garibaldi or anyone else. For three years small insurgent bands had fought against the policies of the Bourbon regime and its armed forces with little or no hope of victory. Yet they preserved in their struggle. They rose up from a territory that was devastated by natural disaster and abandoned from any offer of humanitarian aid by their central government in Naples or the world. Life was a daily struggle for food and shelter. They risked their lives and their family’s safety in a struggle against nature, man and the suppression of spirit. Often the focus of the insurgent rebellious acts was to seek little more than the means to put food on the table. For this they were labelled Brigands, outlaws and thieves by the Neapolitan regime but also folk heroes by their communities. With each act of Bourbon suppression of the Lucanian people their numbers in resistance grew.
The devastation of the quake of 1857 had hit across class lines but for those at the lowest economic run, there was no back-up reserve, no safety net. The times became for many a time of life or death by starvation and exposure. The Bourbon response to the peasant plight was to send troops in to protect wealthy merchant commerce and agriculture not feed and shelter the common people. The peasant farmers and their families who were starving were viewed as expendable. This was intolerable to men who saw their families dying and drove many, understandably, to lash out.
By the summer of 1860 they saw in the “Young Italia” movement and in the promises of the Garibaldi’s campaign in Sicily the possibility of a united Italy, land reform, a voice in governmental affairs and an end to the suppression of the masses by the wealthy absentee landlords and Neapolitan government elite. In other words hope.
Some of the men who gathered for the assault on Potenza on August 17th were drawn from the middle-class “young Italia” movement. But most of the insurgents were drawn from the suppressed lower -class. The majority were not from the middle class, their common link to the politics of change however was the misery of the past three years. Hope is what drove them into and through the guns of the 400 man Bourbon garrison in Potenza. Hope is what guaranteed the success of their assault on their Capitol. If that is not clearly understood, then nothing that follows in the Lucanian story will make sense.
Nicola Mignogna was an agent for Garibaldi and Piedmont who was sent to organize the Basilicatan insurgency in July of 1860. He understood what motivated the initial insurgent force. The force that he gathered numbered about 2,000 men. In a short period of only about six weeks he was able to gather local insurgent bands from all parts of Basilicata. This demonstrates the high degree of support for regime change that existed in Basilicata. It also demonstrates that the insurgents had reached a point where they would accept coordination of effort and were communicating with each other throughout the State. By gathering it demonstrated that it was a force willing to bring the fight, at last, to the common enemy.
So as the insurgents approached what would become their successful assault on the Capitol of Potenza what were the men expecting from Mignogna?
Obviously they were not expecting from Piedmont or Garibaldi any protection from a likely Bourbon counter-offensive. At the time of their attack there still was no Piedmont/Garibaldi force on the mainland. In addition if one should land there was no guarantee that the landing would be successful against 80,000 Bourbon soldiers. I think it was very clear what they expected, what their objective was, and what Mignogna knew he had to deliver if they succeeded.
They wanted the immediate freedom from what they deemed an oppressive regime and a chance at a new and fair beginning. Toward that goal immediately upon the successful taking of the Capitol, the insurgents formally in a writing, crafted by Mignogna, made a declaration of rejection of the Bourbon authority and the intent and purpose to form immediately a new Provisional government. They considered it a requirement that a formal writing declaring “out with the old in with the new” be fashioned and approved.. The insurgents did not delay or hesitate in formalizing their position. They wanted it in writing, with the force of law or so they hoped.
On August 17th, the very day of their initial victory the Lucanian insurgents at Potenza organized and called to order a revolutionary Committee, a sort of provisional State Congress. That Committee declared Bourbon authority null and void within the State of Basilicata. The Committee further declared its intent to petition for the annexation of the State of Basilicata with Piedmont-Sardinia. Lastly, the Committee voted to install Nicola Mignogna as the acting Provisional Governor. This was no longer insurgency with this formality of purpose their actions constituted a revolution.
Propagandists for the policies of the north after unification fail to acknowledge the skill, effort and sophisticated organization of the Lucanians in this early moment of self-determination. Instead attention is distracted to the three men who are frequently mentioned as leaders of the Lucanian/Basilicatan Provisional government and its forces, Nicola Mignogna, Giaquinto Albini and Camillo Boldoni. While I think that these three certainly played a major role as events unfolded, the more important early event, Basilicatan unity of purpose, is generally overlooked.
This was a true “peoples” revolt, and only after success in the field did this revolt ally itself willingly with the Piedmont regime and Garibaldi’s campaign. This alliance was proposed by revolutionary Basilicatan assembly and solidified by the election of Nicola Mignogna as Provisional Governor. Although he was not Lucanian and was known as a Piedmont’s agent he was to them a trusted patriot of the Italian unity cause. I emphasize again that at the time of the capture of Potenza, Piedmont was not a military presence on the southern Italian mainland.
What was important for the revolt to survive in mid-August, without external aid was for the “people” of Basilicata to act and to organize in continued support. Mignogna and the Provisional Committee understood that. The Provisional Committee acted immediately to centralize the rebellion, dividing the State of Basilicata into seven regional Civilian commands. The regional commands were set for the purpose of organizing local insurgents throughout the State. These regional provisional authorities were drawn heavily from people with long standing connections to the “Young Italia” movement, many going back to the rebellion of 1848. The provisional government knew that it would need to function without support for an undetermined amount of time. To secure its own survival it needed coordinated action within the State. Within days every town and village in Basilicata was answering to provisional regional authority and to newly constituted, local provisional militias.
The resolve and the strength of the Provisional Government was tested almost immediately by the Bourbon authority. On the very next day, August 18th it dispatched 1,000 highly trained troops from Salerno to put down the rebellion. The support and popularity of the Provisional Government within Basilicata then became evidenced by the fact that when the original insurgent force of about 2,000 which had captured Potenza of the 17th marched out of Potenza on August 18th, to head off the Bourbon column, the insurgent numbers had already tripled to between 5,000-6,000 men.
Muster payment rolls following the defeat of the Bourbon regime suggest about 15,000 Basilicatan’s participated in the fighting or were in training with the National Guard between August 17th and the battle of Volturno at the conclusion of the military action. However, that number relates only to those paid a stipend by the Piedmont government. It grossly underestimates the number of insurgents helping the cause and rising up throughout Basilicata spontaneously to resist thru and after August 17, 1860. The actual number of insurgent participants may well have been 30,000-40,000 as most were not formally registered to the cause. This is a remarkably high number of “volunteers” in a State which had a total population of 400,000-500,000 people. By comparison 20,000 Sicilian insurgents participated in the Sicilian campaign from an island population of 2 million.
This then brings us to the complicated question of what happened to this organized, dedicated, coordinated Provisional government in Basilicata. Between August 17th and September 2, 1860 it functioned flawlessly in establishing complete control of the State of Basilicata. It placed that control in the hands of the seven regional pro-Piedmont local insurgency commands. The majority of the population of Basilicata was ready and supportive of regime change. At least 10,000 -20,000 poorly armed insurgents had taken control of every town and village in Basilicata in that two week period. There was no rioting, attacks on civilians, theft, in other words civilian order was maintained. Garibaldi himself did not set foot in Basilicata until after Calabria was entirely in his hands so the credit for the transition was independent of his authority.
Garibaldi followed his victory over the Bourbon forces in Calabria by heading to Basilicata, himself, with only two companions, not with his army. He arrived in the State on September 2, 1860. This was two days after he replaced Bertani as military leader of the recently arrived 1,500 northern volunteers from Sardinia with his own commander Col. Turr. He then ordered Col. Turr to leave headquarters in the town of Cosenza to join Bertani men at the town of Paola on the Calabrian coast. From there Turr was to take the 1,500 by sea and land at Sapri below Salerno in Compania on the first of September. Bertani, the Mazzinian, was then reassigned by Garibaldi to his central command. This staff position isolated Bertani from the republican sympathizers within Garibaldi’s forces.
What followed on Garibaldi’s journey from Calabria to Basilicata is interesting on many levels. From Cosenza, leaving at 3 in the morning of September 1, 1860, Garibaldi next went to Spezzano Albanese in the north of Calabria.
As I pointed out above, Garibaldi did not leave on this journey with his army in tow. Instead he left for Basilicata in an open carriage accompanied by Consenz and Bertani as his two companions. As he travelled northward fully exposed, his carriage was joined by one carrying Peard and a number of his English companions, but that was the sum total of his escort. It is clear that Garibaldi’s sense of personal security was absolute as he moved northward. So secure in fact that no military escort, even a small one was needed. This more than anything speaks to the common sentiment and control the insurgency had in the area.
Spezzano Albanese, his first stop, as the name implies in a town founded by Albanian immigrants to southern Italy in the 1500’s. There Garibaldi was greeted warmly by the town’s folk with whom he shared a common Albanian cultural heritage.
“Thence to Spezzano Albanese, where the Albanian colonists, like their kinsman of Piana dei Greci, near Palermo, greeted the Dictator even more warmly, if that is possible, than the Italian villages along the road.” “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy”, page 154.
Garibaldi and his companions left Spezzano Albanese reaching the town of Castrovillari where he and his friends spent their final night in Calabria. From Castrovillari on September 2, 1860 Garibaldi set out for the border with Basilicata. In the book “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy” at page 155 the crossing into Basilicata is described in this way;
“Next morning (September 2) he passed on across the luxuriant plain that lies close at the foot of Monte Pollino…thence passed at once into the regions of naked limestone, the heart of the mountains which divide Calabria from Basilicata. At the top of the first Pass he entered the Campo Tenese, a meadow 3,000 feet above the sea, and several miles in extent, enclosed on all sides by mountains… At the far end of the Campo Tenese Garibaldi climbed another Pass, and thence descended out of Calabria into Basilicata.
Garibaldi’s arrival in Basilicata was clearly an anticipated and pre-arranged event for which the Basilicatan Provisional Government was well informed. On the route he took the first town in Basilicata he would come to was Rotonda in the southwest of the State. The full assemblage of the Provisional government and approximately 6,000 insurgent fighters awaited Garibaldi’s arrival in the town.
“The first place which he reached in the new province was the hill-town of Rotonda, where he found the National Guard and all the paraphernalia of the revolutionary authority already in being, as if it had been Paris, or Cosenza at the least.” “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy” page 155.
Again, the Lucanian assemblage that greeted Garibaldi at Rotondo was clearly acting as an organized “governmental” body complete with a military force. They were prepared, probably enthusiastic, about “joining” the General and liberator in the campaign to finish the Bourbon regime. They were also cautious, and were sizing up this man as I am sure he was sizing up the Lucanians. For Garibaldi the question was would these men follow him in his campaign. For the Lucanians was this man offering them the hope of a better future.
Photograph of the hilltop village of Rotonda
Once Garibaldi reached Rotonda events began to unfold in southern Italy at a startling pace. Forces and events began to escalate and ultimately result in the abandonment of the Capitol City of Naples by the Bourbon King. Those forces and events would be aided by the part that would be played by Basilicatan Provisional Government and a core group of insurgents in the coming days. That role played by the Lucanians has never received the recognition that it deserved from historians.
To begin with, in meeting with the Basilicatan Provisional Government Garibaldi once again confirmed the representations of his agents, in particular Mignogna that the intent of Piedmont was to establish a unified Constitutional Monarchy in Italy, effect meaningful land reform and issue pardons and in some cases positions of leadership in the new Italian State army to those who fought with him. This was welcomed news to many who had long persevered under threat of execution or jail as outcasts and brigands to the Bourbon regime. In this way Garibaldi secured and reinforced his command over the Lucanians.
Garibaldi knew that Basilicata was key to any armed conflict with the remaining 60,000 Bourbon soldiers 45,000 of whom were located primarily in and around Naples. Control and free access to Basilicata, which was now in the hands of the Basilicatan insurgents, would give Garibaldi’s forces access to all of the mountain passes leading to Naples. He could literally move his army silently through the mountains, exit and attack the Bourbons at any point along the southern coast. So Basilicatan support was critical. Reinforcement of his promises of the above goals of his campaign in the name of Victor Emmanuel II secured the Basilicatan support that he needed.
By September 2, 1860 Garibaldi knew he needed to act very quickly to secure the Bourbon Capitol under the control of his forces for a host of reasons, some based on the morale and readiness of the Bourbon army but other reasons based upon his relationship with Cavour and the Piedmont ministry. On August 30th Garibaldi had received secret correspondence from Alexander Dumas in Naples that with the declining Bourbon position some of the Bourbon ministers were prepared to try to organize a coup. In fact Dumas had met secretly with Neapolitan Minister Liborio Romano on August 23rd to discuss just such a possibility.
“Alexander Dumas, who had recently gone to the capital in his yacht. He wrote that he had obtained an interview with Liborio Romano, now the principal Minister of the King and by far the most influential person in Naples. Liborio, wrote Dumas, is at your disposition, together with at least two of his fellow-Ministers, at the first attempt at reaction on the King’s part, At the first attempt, which will set him free from his oath of fidelity, Liborio Romano offers to leave Naples with two of his colleagues, to present himself to you, to proclaim the deposition of the King and to recognize you as Dictator…”, “Garibaldi and the making of Italy”, page 149.
It was already known to Garibaldi that just weeks earlier Cavour had tried unsuccessfully to encourage various Neapolitan factions to revolt with a promise of support from Piedmont naval forces. Cavour recognized the danger in letting Garibaldi obtain all the credit for the Bourbon defeat and all the loyalty of the pro-unification insurgents. His encouragement however had not met with enough support within the city to be even remotely practical. The Bourbon Monarch was actually fairly popular within the Provence of Naples. It was only beyond the suburban confines of the city that his popularity waned.
Garibaldi did not want a coup to take place unless his troops were in a position to maintain civil order in the aftermath. Therefore, he responded to Dumas directing that no attempt at Bourbon ouster should be conducted unless he and his forces were literally at the city’s gates. However, Garibaldi could sense the growing instability of the Bourbon regime.
At this juncture we again see Garibaldi as a master tactician. On August 31st he had already dispatched Turr and his fresh 1,500 Piedmont “volunteers” by sea to land at Sapri, below Salerno. Now in Basilicata, Garibaldi sent most of the Basilicatan insurgent force back to their mountain passes but retained 2,500 of the best trained under Mignogna. These he sent northward running parallel through the mountains toward Salerno.
The only Bourbon troops between Salerno and Garibaldi were 3,000 men under Bourbon general Caldarelli who was retreating to Naples along the western mountain high road. At Salerno the Bourbon military had positioned approximately 12,000 troops. So approximately 15,000 Bourbon troops stood against Gatibaldi in lower Compania. Against these men Garibaldi had Turr’s 1,500 newly landed and the now acquired 2,500 Lucanians. The bulk of Garibaldi force of an additional 15,000 was still in Calabria.
Garibaldi left Rotonda the night of September 2nd with six companions skirting Caldarelli’s retreat to the south making for the coast. He arrived at the coast somewhere between Tortora and Maratea. From there he took a small boat to Sapri where he rejoined the 1,500 men under Col. Turr who had already landed at Sapri on September 3rd.
I should discuss the reason that the bulk of Garibaldi’s forces, 15,000 men were still in Calabria but moving slowly northward. These troops were having difficulty as they were at this point undersupplied with food for a march through the mountains and underprepared for the excessive summer heat. Unfortunately this region of Italy is very poor and surplus food or living off the land as the army marched northward was proving difficult.
Once Garibaldi had rejoined Turr’s men at Sapri his intention was to confront Caldarelli who forces would be positioned and caught in the mountains between Garibaldi’s advance on Caldarelli’s west and the parallel advance by what had now been dubbed the “Lucanian Brigade” of 2,500 men on Caldarelli’s east.
Garibaldi raced Turr’s men into the mountains and on to the Lagonegro high road along which General Caldarelli was retreating. By September 4th Garibaldi had reached a small hamlet with a tavern known as Il Fortino. At reaching this point Garibaldi’s march was overtaken by a Piedmont Naval Officer named Piola. Apparently Piola had been sent by Depretis who was left in charge of Sicily as “co-Dictator”. The mission’s purpose was to get Garibaldi to sign off on the immediate formal annexation of Sicily to Piedmont-Sardinia. According to most historical sources Garibaldi was at first willing to do as requested however, on the counsel of Bertani, a Mazzinian, he declined. Instead he urged Depretis to delay annexation for yet a while longer.
Historically, the maneuvering over when annexation should occur is generally regarded as the outward manifestation of the internal power struggle between Cavour/King Victor Emmanuel and the Mazzinian faction over when to include the Papal States in this unification war. Garibaldi has been traditionally cast as somewhat caught between the two factions. Many regard his reluctance to cede annexation of Sicily as an attempt to force the King and Cavour into action against the south and the Papal States.
With the knowledge that the Naples regime was near collapse Cavour knew that the King, not Garibaldi had to be seen as leading this unification. Since Naples could not be relied on to hand itself over in a coup, Cavour began to finally prepare for direct Piedmont involvement in the Bourbon regime’s demise. He knew that this would require, at least to some degree, Piedmont’s invasion of Papal territory in order for his troops to get from the north to the south of Italy.
On September 5, 1860 Garibaldi and his 1,500 men caught up with the retreating Bourbon force of Caldarelli. General Caldarelli surrendered his force without a fight at the town of Padula. This surrender of yet again another large body of men caused general panic within the Bourbon command. Soon rumors began circulating that the 12,000 men stationed at and around Salerno were planning the same type of defection. As a result of those rumors the Bourbon high command in Naples ordered the 12,000 troops in Salerno under the command of Marshall Afan de Rivera back to Naples. Salerno was abandoned by the Bourbon’s and thus open to Garibaldi and his 1,500 Piedmont troops as well as the 2,500 man Lucanian Brigade.
It is at this moment on September 5, 1860 at Padula that an interesting transition takes place with regard to the relationship of Garibaldi and the Basilicatan Insurgency. Garibaldi the “Dictator” removed the Mazzinian, Nicolo Mignogna the chosen Provisional Governor and military commander of Basilicata by promoting him to his personal staff. Just as he had done with Mazzinian Bertani a week earlier. However, Bertani was not a Provisional Governor. In Mignogna’s place Garibaldi appointed Giaquinto Albini as Governor of Basilicata. Albini, who shared a cultural/ethnic heritage with Garibaldi was considered by Garibaldi to be fully loyal to Garibaldi/Piedmont’s plans and ambitions. This is interesting in that Albini was a native Lucanian and Mignogna was not. He then place Camillo Boldoni, a Piedmont military officer, in charge of the Lucanian forces who were sent northward, not to Salerno, to take up a position at Casalnuovo near Naples. Mignogna also turned over to Garibaldi about 6,000 ducats which had been raised in Basilicata to support the Lucanian Brigade.
I would note that with this move the Lucanian brigade came under the direct command of Garibaldi and the Piedmont plan. Garibaldi and Turr’s men did not head north toward Naples but instead headed for the undefended city of Salerno. Since the bulk of Garibaldi’s forces were south of Salerno and Garibaldi and his force were headed toward Salerno only the Lucanian Brigade was headed to Naples on September 5th. By default the Lucanian Brigade became the vanguard of the Garibaldian forces moving toward the Bourbon Capitol. It also meant that Garibaldi was sending 2,500 Lucanians against at a minimum 45,000 Bourbon soldiers.
Photograph of the city of Salerno
On the morning of September 6, 1860 Garibaldi entered the city of Salerno at the head of 1,500 men unopposed.
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