Summer 1861 Insurgent Campaign in Southern Italy


            By Tom Frascella                                                                                                                 September 2016


 I want to reinforce the proposition that up until the Crocco lead revolt in Lucania, and other uprisings in Abruzzi, which in part proclaimed pro-Bourbon leanings, Piedmont’s focus had been on maintaining order in the south by concentrating its military forces in the more populated Campania region. There were isolated actions and conflicts in Campania in the summer of 1861 which Piedmont took very seriously due to the region’s proximity to Bourbon forces in the Papal States. With revolts and riots spreading throughout the south Piedmont was forced to confront the escalating general lawlessness. Nevertheless Piedmont initially felt that a relatively small military force was sufficient to keep thing under control. The fact that Piedmont’s policies and actions might be the cause of the escalating problems seems never to have taken hold among the northern elite. Therefore altering those policies never became an alternative as providing a possible non-military solution.

 For example, the summer of 1861 saw a number of Neapolitan work related riots. One major source of unrest concerned the Piedmont sponsored building of a railroad from Naples to the Adriatic east coast of southern Italy. This large employment opportunity and the potential economic stimulus that would come from such a project would normally be considered a good thing. Much of the labor associated with the western part of the project was expected to come from the Neapolitan region. However, Piedmont had installed very corrupt ex-Bourbon officials who were in turn supported by criminal “Camorra” elements in Naples. That basically gave these corrupt factions free reign to govern in Campania. As a result the project was plagued with high costs and embezzlement of funds much of which was supposed to go to pay the laborers slaving away on the construction. The result, labor riots, which the corrupt officials responded to by attacking the aggrieved laborers by using National Guard and military forces. After some of the corruption was exposed in northern newspapers the local construction companies were replaced with a French Company at the insistence of the railroad financier the Rothschild Bank of France. The corruption however continued.

 On the rural insurrection side of the equation, small bands sometimes acting independently/locally and sometimes in concert with other regionally centered bands were very active throughout the south. As an example in early July, small localized bands of insurrectionists attacked Piedmont authorities, National Guardsmen, regular Army, and local officials in the following towns; San Vito, Isola Chiavone, San Dominico, Chiusano, Sorbo Serpico, Salza, Volturara, Malepassoe, Monteforte, all of which are located in northern Lucania.  The geographic spread of the riots and revolt prompted an urgent call for more reinforcements from the north by local officials who were put in place as political hacks for Piedmont. Piedmont military with the aid of National Guard troops such as they were on July 1st were able to capture a group of 14 guerillas in the woods near San Fele. These men were summarily executed where they were captured. However to point out the escalating level of violence on July 2nd a squad of soldiers who had been looting homes in the area of Beneventano were ambushed and killed by local insurgents. To make their point the insurgents placed the soldiers’ bodies nailed on hooks on the doorways of the houses they had violated. So violence proceeded on both sides in an escalating fashion.

 From what I gather from the readings by July 7th some 31 small municipalities in the Vulture alone had declared the reestablishment of the Bourbons and driven the Piedmont officials out. This should have resulted in the ensuing conflict being characterized as a continuation of the Bourbon/Piedmont conflict and the insurgents being described as Bourbonists or legitimists in the struggle. However, Piedmont early on avoided this characterization in favor of describing the insurgents as simply "brigands".

 In areas such as the Vulture when a town declared a change in allegiance it was not necessarily the desire of all of the townspeople. This was “civil” war and it would be unrealistic to expect that everyone would favor one side versus the other. What followed the changing allegiances are examples of areas transferring from one side to the other, with insurgents and then army soldiers alternating. With each transfer of power and loyalty reprisals were carried out by the prevailing side.  Hundreds were killed in this manner in Lucania alone by early July. Those deaths include primarily civilians.  In addition, few combatant prisoners were taken by either side as the rebels had no facilities for keeping them and Piedmont’s commanders little disposition to do so. So both captured soldiers and insurgents knew that surrender would probably mean death.

 Leading much of the Piedmont force early on in the Vulture area was a Prefect by the name of Colonel De Luca from the town of Avellino. He seems to initially have had about 500 soldiers a battalion of National Guard under his authority. Around the 7th of July he led his force in the recapture of the town of Atripalda. He then led his men on a successful assault on the nearby town of Candida Chiusano. In Chiusano he summarily executed all those he identified as insurgent rebels without trial. From there he led his troops about five miles north toward the insurgent held town of Montefalcione, randomly killing farmers he encountered along the way. This he did as a precaution against them being rebel supporters/spies, who he feared would provide intel to the insurgents about his movements. He so enraged the locals by his actions during this early campaign that he was met by an estimated 6,000 locals farmers and townspeople outside of Montefalicione. He and his troops had to hastily retreat under heavy small arms fire and seek sanctuary in a local monastery. The Piedmont troops suffered many casualties in the retreat. The condition of sanctuary held no sway with the enraged peasants who proceeded to arrange to set the monastery structure on fire with De Luca and his remaining force inside. He was saved only by the fortuitous arrival of a column of several hundred Hungarian cavalry arriving from Nocera. These were among the same Hungarian mercenary 5,000 troops from Garibaldi’s southern expeditionary force that Piedmont retained while dismissing most of the 25,000 others.

 Shortly thereafter, on July 9th the Hungarians returned together with about eight hundred supporting troops and set siege to the town of Montefalicione. They successfully recaptured the town killing 150 people and sending to prison several hundred more. They were also allowed/encouraged by their commanders to loot freely, including the churches and to molest the citizens at will. For this action the commander of the Hungarian troops was awarded by Victor Emmanuel II with the Knights Cross, and four Piedmont officers were awarded silver medals. In awarding the medals no mention was made that many of those killed in the fighting had been “executed” and that some had been women and children.

 Thereafter looting, burning and the summary execution of civilians became the standing order to the day to the Piedmont troops in Lucania starting about mid-July. As a result the death totals began to rapidly increase especially among civilians. The list of those towns in Lucania in particular where wholesale, looting, rape, burning and executions took place is extensive although at the time and since great effort has been made by the Italian authorities to hide the extent of the atrocities.

 On July 15th General Cialdini was placed in charge of the military effort in the south with specific orders to quell the insurrection. General Cialdini had previously demonstrated that he had no problem encouraging the most vicious of military actions especially against unarmed civilians. Today his actions would be considered those of a war criminal. Upon assuming command he immediately began to restructure the forces he had there in the south. He recruited about 600 former Garibaldi officers from northern Italy and about 10,000-20,000 ex Bourbon soldiers. He gained the loyalty of these men by offering as inducement higher wages than regular National Guard troops. He also began to enforce the southern draft by use of the threat of execution for not answering. To this newly formed force he also added recruits who were convicted violent criminals including murderers from the prisons. This brought the total number of Piedmont lead troops in the south to about 40,000-45,000 by mid-summer 1861. Cialdini then began an intensified program of spying using contacts within the Camorra and the Mafia and rewards for information for guerrilla locations and identities.

 From the 15th of July to the 21 the fighting and civilian slaughter continued to escalate. A great effort to hide or disguise the level atrocities committed on local civilian populations by Piedmont forces was made in the press. However some news got out before newspapers printing unfavorable stories were eventually shut down by the government. Some of the negative press politically caused Piedmont ally Napoleon III who at the time was pretending to be neutral to write a letter to King Victor Emmanuel on July 21st protesting the measures and tactics being employed and concluding with the statement, “The Bourbons were never like this”. The killings and atrocities by Piedmont troops continued unabated.

 Many of the Piedmont sub-commanders in the south began to actively encourage acts of extreme aggression focused randomly on civilians especially women and children as a tactic in breaking the will of the people. This went so far as to give promotions and decorations to soldiers who raped and killed civilians including children. At this early point in the conflict the insurgents and their supporters were portrayed as outlaws/brigands. The north had not yet begun a systematic racial/genetic argument to support their atrocities. However, the beginning steps toward what today is called “ethnic Cleansing” was starting.

 There were a few examples of some commanders who were disciplined for their actions but that appears to have been more for show than to deter the military excesses by the Piedmont regime. There are numerous examples of the opposite where hundreds and sometimes thousands of men women and children were executed wholesale and buried in unmarked mass graves. Following these occurrences frequently the commanding officers were decorated and or promoted even if removed from command.

 The truth and character of what took place has been hidden so well that despite the fact that hundreds of thousands, some say a million, innocent men, women, and children were killed in the south over a period of thirty years most descendants of Italian immigrants are totally unaware of the mass slayings. This is true even though 80% of those Italians that immigrated in the 19th and 20th century were from the south and it was their people even families that were the victims. No one spoke of it. To this day there is little if any “official” acknowledgement by the Italian State of the atrocities committed.

 Pino Aprile in his book, “Terroni” published in 2011 addresses this lack of historic acknowledgement and admission of guilt by the Italian State in this way;

“If Italy were to speak, it would have to condemn its origins. We still do not know how many towns were destroyed by the Savoy troops and those foreign troops at their command (the most savage of these were the Hungarian Hussars). We have counted eighty-one, so far, though some were forever erased from the maps (this number cannot be found in any history book or official document). It is difficult to predict where this research will take us because in the months following the conquest, nearly one thousand five hundred towns rebelled against their “liberators.” Against enemies of this caliber (author’s note: he was referring to his “Italian brothers”) mercy is considered a crime,” stated General Fernando Pinelli to his troops. “WE will purify these regions, infested with their filthy drool, with iron and fire.” The atrocities for which he was responsible were enough to stir the protests by the foreign press and this forced the government to remove him from his post. Before doing so, however, they awarded him with a gold medal.” Page 65.

 I cannot find the space in this writing to go through the names of the towns and the casualties associated with the fighting even at this early stage. I will comment that a good deal of the fighting was happening in the Vulture region including the “woods” near San Fele.

 By August 1, 1861 local Piedmont officials including mayors in the south were advising young southern men that if they did not report for the draft they would be shot. Yet many still resisted the draft and did not want to participate in a civil war against their own regional countrymen.

 As the atrocities continued there were a few voices raised in protest. They even invoked a response from the well-respected northern politician and former Prime Minister of Sardinia Massimo D’Azeglio. In a letter to the government which was published in the northern press he suggested that force was not a way to unite a people. That the necessity of placing 60 battalions of soldiers to establish order was inconsistent with a message to Italy’s citizens of fellowship. In fact he opined that the stronger the military suppression the more resistance that would be created in the south. He also opined that while Italians had every right to expel Germans from Italy they had no right to force unity on other Italians that did not want it. That Piedmont’s policies then current approach was more likely to alienate citizens than to unite them. Probably his most famous quote translated was “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians. He apparently saw some risk to accomplishing that based on Piedmont’s actions.

 Over the next seventy years what the northern Italian policies toward the south made was millions of second-class citizens in the south of the Kingdom and millions of new Americans. Unable to resist the crushing political, social and economic suppression inflicted by the northern Italian policies millions voted against unity with their feet as the saying goes.

 But in early August 1861 that future immigration away from the conflict had not taken place yet. Southern Italy had risen in protest and armed insurrection and northern Italy was responding with ever increasing military intervention. Probably no series of events illustrates the situation in southern Italy in early to mid-August better than those that effected the town of Pontelandolfo. Pontelandolfo is located in what I would refer to as “greater” Lucania, although technically today it is in northern Campania. It shares the rich ancient heritage of Samnite/Greek, and later 5th century A.D. Lombard history of much of northern Lucania down through Salerno County.

 On August 2, 1861 the Mayor of Pontelandolfo, a Piedmont supporter, received a message from the local insurgency band operating in the region. The band sent a message via insurgent courier Gennaro “Sticco” Renaldi which demanded support from the town in the form of 8,000 ducats and a number of weapons to be delivered within 48 hours. Failure to comply would result in the insurrectionists setting fire to the homes and property of the locals who supported the Piedmont regime. The Mayor and a number of leading pro-Piedmont officials immediately appealled to the governor of the province in Benevento. Two days later on August 4th Colonel De Marco, who was almost killed by insurgents a month earlier, arrived in the town with 200 troops to secure it from attack by the insurgents.

 On that same day about 90 miles further south in Lucania the Hungarian Hussars arrive at the town of Auletta. Auletta a town of four thousand is a neighboring town to San Fele and was considered in revolt against the Piedmont regime. On that day the Hussars executed 45 citizens including four local priests, arrested 200 that were then deported to prison in Salerno. The Hungarian troops then were allowed by their commander to loot as well as set fire to a number of houses.

 Insurgent forces in the meantime gathered on the 4th and 5th in force in the hills surrounding Pontelandolfo, where their ever increasing number of campfires convinced Colonel De Marco that his position in the town was not secure. The Colonel advised the Mayor and several wealthy town leaders that he intended to leave and would provide them with an escort. On August 5th the column retreats from the town with ten wagon loads of loot and belongings. Before the Mayor left he officially cancelled the festival for St Donato and important religious holiday in the town and neighboring towns which traditionally was held on August 6th.

 The local bishop then not only continued the preparations for the feast but encouraged the insurgents to enter the town as heroes, and to declare the reinstitution of the Bourbon Monarchy and the establishment of a provisional government. The local insurgent commander Epifanio Tommaselli agreed and a provisional government was declared. On the 6th of August the feast was held drawing thousands of celebrators from Pontelandolfo but also from surrounding towns as well. When the insurgents entered the town they were greeted warmly and Bourbon flags were unfurled in all of the important buildings. Some Piedmont loyalists who were left behind suffered dire consequences for their Piedmont support. More property damage and acts against pro-Piedmont civilians occurred as the revolt spread to several neighboring towns. These towns included Casalduni a town of about three thousand. In each of those towns the National Guard troops were disarmed and the Piedmont officials sent fleeing for their lives.

 When word of the widespread revolt that was in progress in the part of Campania reached General Cialdini his fear that the situation was becoming uncontrollable was telegraphed to General Cadorma in Abruzzo Province on the East coast of southern Italy. He ordered the General that if the rebellion picked up steam then General Cardorma should concentrate his troops in Teramo. Fighting continued throughout the region on the 7th,8th and 9th with both sides moving men and arms into position.

 Meanwhile as part of Piedmont’s attempt to quell the rebellion in Basilicata they sent troops of the 31st sharpshooters in to attack the or bolster National Guard troops in towns including  Ruvo del Monte, S. Georgio, Molinara and Pago Pietrelcina located in various points in Lucania on the 9th. Northern Basilicata, also saw a military build-up of troops in Rionero.

 It is Ruvo del Monte that is of most interest here for our purposes in that it is close to San Fele, about five miles distant, and the forces of the Insurrectionist leader Carmine Crocco were concentrated near there on August 9th.



                                                                                            Photograph of Ruvo del Monte



                                                                       The Battle for Ruvo Del Monte



 By August 10th Carmine Crocco’s forces had increased in number to over 1,000 men. I think it is best to quote directly from Crocco’s own book in order to get something of a feel for what he was thinking and what was going on around him. According to the text, “How I Became a Bandit” page 42 the story picks up as he approached the small town of Ruvo Del Monte which is located as I indicated 5.3 miles from San Fele;

“I have a plumed hat, a useless tunic, a pure black horse, a lot of weapons, and in addition, I have the command of more than a thousand men, who move and act when I want.

 At the beginning of the day I get close to a village, name Ruvo Del Monte, located on the slope of a hill, shaded by leafy chestnut trees, by fertile vineyards. Here and there I run into little but nice and big villas. Far from here there is a huge tower, which overlooks the ruined feudal castle, and reveals the antiquity of the village.

 I am in charge of 1,200 men and 175 horses; the bells of the parish are tolling, which is a sure indication that the inhabitants are preparing for a defense of their lives, of their wealth and their honor. I stop at a half-mile from the first houses and write to the Mayor and to the Board the following letter:

“Dear Mr. Mayor and Gentlemen of Ruvo Del Monte. I’m here in your presence, not to hurt you, but rather to pray you so that your lordships have the goodness to give me the forage for 1,200 men and 175 horses, I pray in gold for it.

 After that I will continue my journey; I hope that you, respectable men, satisfy my prayers, not obliging me to be violent. I give you one hour to answer.” “How I became a Bandit” page 42.

 Now of course Crocco knew that by mid-August with the Piedmont forces reinforced by an additional 10,000 soldiers and an enlarged National Guard the pressure on local officials and the National Guard to increase resistance was stiffening. He knew before he approached Ruvo that his demands were not going to be met. Essentially the people in these small towns were already beginning to feel the vice tightening between the insurgents and the Piedmont government with them caught between. The Mayor’s response, even though he was pro-Piedmont reflects the acknowledgement of the townspeople’s predicament.

“Dear Carminuccio. We cannot accept the request made to us; it not only affects our reputation according to what the Royal Government thinks but touches our heart and our self-respect, as well. And since we are well supplied with cartridges and we want to test our courage and our dust, we expect that you come forward with your shepherds and we will kill them.

 The best advice that we can give you is that you go away, and soon, as there will be soon some soldiers from Rionero, San Fele and Calitri. They will follow you and it will be over for you and yours.  Mayor Biasucci”. Page 42 &43.

 This note would seem to indicate that as of August 10th there were both National Guard and regular Piedmont army troops stationed in San Fele as well as elsewhere in the immediate area. I would point out that San Fele was a much larger town than Ruvo Del Monte, 1,000 vs. 10,000 and physically much harder to assault because of the narrow road in, and very steep mountain location. The size of the force that Crocco had could not have accomplished a successful direct assault on San Fele without sustaining many casualties, which is probably why it was never attempted. However, even a town like San Fele was at risk as most its agriculture and commerce was located in the open valley. So th townspeople could only stay atop the mountain for a limited time.

 Crocco decided to attack the town of Ruvo and the event can be partially reconstructed from Crocco’s own account;

“After reading this letter to my teammates, I said to them: Young men, we must punish not only this rejection, but also the insult to call us shepherds by killing them, those who are brave may follow me.”

 I should note that there was a certain arrogance and contempt that filtered down from the Piedmont officials and the regular army especially as it applied to the southern Italian rural class. Crocco, did not have the same contempt for the Lucanian villagers he was about to face. He further describes his assault on the town;

“I arranged four centurions on the front line, which furiously headed for the country, and were welcomed by a fire of musketry well fed but not very strong, while another two hundred men were ordered to attack the sided area. The knights were to control the road to Rionero and to move forward in time to inform me about the troops’ arrival; another centurion was directed to the road of Calitri with the same instructions. The remaining men under the command of Ninco Nanco were left behind for the revival. The attack was simultaneous and terrible.  In eternal honor of those brave citizens who fell, I can assure you that they fought in every inch of their village. After losing their position, they were stationed in the square; after being forced to leave that area, as well, they occupied the area near the church and after firing all the cartridges, they fought against my soldiers. Overwhelmed by the number, they tried to reach the tower, but as the street was closed, they prepared to die, but the women crying , threw themselves among the fighters begging for mercy and grace for their fathers, their husbands and their children. A white flag waved on the tower, so the fight ended, but the streets were crowed with corpses, and my men ransacked everything.

 The municipal authority was sitting, so when I walked in the palace of the town, I found the councilors in their place.

 I ordered that the role of the National Guard, the guns and the soldiers’ ammunition, the common fund and that of the land, were given to me. I was replied that I had to put an end to the bloodsheds and the fire, and I would have been satisfied. It was done that way.

 Recalling that famous day I still wonder where those poor citizens had learned the art of the war, as to explain their strength and their ability to fight, being about 300, for several hours against 1,000 young men, eager for the pleasure and the prey.” Pages 43 &44.

 What is most important here is that Crocco expected/wanted, and had positioned some of his forces in lookouts, to safeguard against the regular Piedmont troops which would eventually arrive. To this point in time as was his usual tactic the regular army’s arrival would be too late and he would have time to disperse into the mountains. By appearance he seemed, even in the positioning of lookouts to be following this pattern. However, that was not the plan this time. It would appear that the attack on Ruvo was meant to elicit the expected response from the Piedmont Commander positioned at Rinero and that Crocco was counting on response.

 In fact, on the 10th of August Crocco left Ruvo del Monte now in a state of insurgent control, and headed into the hills near Frunti. There he was joined by additional forces commanded by Agostino Sacchitello, who had 162 men and sixty horses with him. In all Crocco had according to his own account “reached the strength of 1541 men and 256 horses”. On the evening of the 10th Crocco learned that as expected the Piedmont command was gathering up a large force to encircle his position.

 August 11th was an interesting and fateful day for the insurgency both in Potenza Province in Basilicata, and in Campania at Pontelandolfo.

 In and around Pontelandolfo on the 10th of August small units of National Guard troops were and continued to be attacked by insurgents and angry peasants wherever they were encountered. A number were killed. On orders from General Cialdini, Colonel De Marco at the head of 200 National Guard was sent to retake Pontelandolfo. He got as far as the town of Solopaca where he realized that the entire countryside was in rebellion and retreated to Morcone and telegraphed the news of the general uprising around Pontelandolfo back to Naples. He reported that 45 soldiers had been killed by the insurgents in the area of Pontelandolfo and Casalduni and that he had insufficient men to quell the uprising..

 General Cialdini ordered General Maurizio De Sonnaz with 900 regular Piedmont troops to attack Pontelandolfo and Casalduni. With the troops already in the area the General could muster a force of several thousand for an assault. But it was the specific order of assault given by General Cialdini that is most important. The general wanted to teach the inhabitants of the region a lesson and ordered his commander to leave ”not remain one stone upon another”. The ancient Roman command for a complete destruction/ annihilation of a city and its people.

 In the Ruvo area at the same time Crocco was preparing for the arrival of Piedmont forces assigned to his area. In Crocco’s own words;

“The command had decided to vigorously attack me using the encirclement. They knew that I was wounded, but did not think that the wounded tiger frightens the hunter.

 Sure not to be molested, in the afternoon I headed for Ruvo where I had my wound treated, and in the evening with the fanfare in my head I headed for the river Ofanto, in the direction of Calitri. Everyone thought that I was moving to occupy Calitri, actually late at night, I unexpectedly changed direction and after three hours of backwards, I stopped in a position that seemed to me very strong.” How I Became a Bandit page 45.

 What is important here is he is relying on the expectation of the Piedmont soldiers that he would retreat and disperse into the mountains when in fact he is laying down a trap.

 August 12th saw the following developments:

“At dawn the next day the troops arrived at Ruvo, and because of the news of my departure and the direction taken, decided to follow me, sure to surprise me in the woods of Castiglione or in those of Monticchio.

 My spies, after accompanying the troops up to the Ofanto, informed me that they had rested in Scona, eight miles away from me…”

 This of course, presented a potential problem for crocco and is plan. The enemy is close enough to potentially, through spies of their own, discover Crocco’s trap. He needed to make something happen to encourage the Piedmont commander to act aggressively and luckily an opportunity presented itself.

“At about two o’clock, p.m., the sub-prefect Decio Lordi from Muro Lucano, received the exchange, left Melfi to take the sub-prefecture of Eboli. Escorted by a moving guard company and a dozen of martinets, he was riding along the road, when I was informed of him, and I ordered my knights to attack him.” Page 46.

Crocco’s force caught the soldiers by surprise, however the sub-prefect escaped the ambush with two soldiers. Of the remaining nine soldiers, three were killed and six were wounded according to Crocco’s account. Among those captured was a minor officer.

“A young lieutenant from San Fele was in charge of the group and thanks to him, the survived National Guard, in spite of my soldiers desire for blood, was able to come back to his country, alive. That lieutenant’s father had once benefited from my father, so I saved his life and that of his men.” Page 47.

 I would have to check with San Fele records but it is possible that Crocco is referring to Lt. Stia as the captured officer in this passage. While there may have been some inter-family relationship and truth about a favor done to his father what Crocco does next shows his motivation ran deeper and was part of a greater plan.

“ before saying goodbye, I begged the officer to do homage to the commander from Piedmont who was following me, and to warn him that I would have waited for him at the Toppacivita brush, where I would have stayed for some days.” Page 47.

 In other words he is trying to entice the commander to come and get him, as well as telling him where. When the message is delivered the commander, he replies by letter demanding Crocco’s surrender or he will come and get him in 24 hours. Crocco declined to surrender. The 24 delay gives Crocco even more time to prepare.

 I could continue to quote from the letter exchanges between Crocco and the Piedmont commander but it is clear that the commander thought he was in the superior position. This is part arrogance on the commander’s side but also partly the knowledge that his forces were better trained, better armed and outnumbered the opposing force by more than 2 to 1.

 The Piedmont commander attacked Crocco’s position on August 14th. Some accounts indicate that the Piedmont forces numbered as many as 4,000, a mixture of regular soldiers and National Guard. Crocco’s force was estimated to be around 1,400-1600 poorly armed men. Crocco’s own account which is quite detailed runs several pages in his book and is interesting in demonstrating his command and understanding of ambush tactics. Not only did he out maneuver the Piedmont force but his men out fought them. By the end of the day Crocco had forced the entire Piedmont force back to Rionero. The Piedmont commander left behind over 200 dead and fifty captured. This encounter was probably the largest single day defeat of a Piedmont force in southern Italy since the arrival of Victor Emmanuel II in October 1860. This surprising victory has led some historians to call Crocco the “Napoleon of the insurgents’ which while complimentary of his skill is misleading. He was a capable guerilla fighter more akin to a Poncho Villa than a Napoleon.

 The following day, on the feast of the Assumption, Crocco’s forces raided and looted the surrounding countryside for food to celebrate the victory. There were no opposing forces of note to stop them. Of interesting note in Crocco’s book is the following detail about this; “ On August 15,  1861, the day of the Assumption, to celebrate the victory against the garrison in Rionero, I wanted on our table two hundred sheep, a thousand chickens, two casks of wine, all stolen, for the most part, by Captain Giannini from S. Fel’s farms.” Page 62.

 Later as his force disperses he makes the following additional reference to San Fele; “I attacked Rapone forcing the people to pay heavy contributions of money and food, threatened the lords from San Fele imposing blackmails and burdens, and after having forced people from Atella to pay different amounts of money, with my band reduced to about a thousand men, went to the Lagopesole bush.

 One of the developing tactics of the insurgents was to force support from local leaders by threatening abductions for ransom, theft of grain stores and other wholesale acts of confiscation. There was a t this point considerable might to back up their acts.

 While the insurgents had earned a considerable victory near San Fele the fate of the insurgents in Campania near Pontelandolfo, who were not nearly as well led, was to be very different.



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