Surrender Your Dreams, Your Liberty, and Your Dignity
By Tom Frascella June 2016
Based upon the two previous articles it is clear in historical hindsight that Piedmont had thought out precisely what it needed monetarily and militarily to accomplish to move forward with its plan for unification under the Piedmont regime. The bulk of the finances they needed were to come from looting the corpse the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies . The looting of the southern financial reserves commenced even before that corpse was completely dead. But why didn’t the people of the south recognize how badly they were being treated and the potential economic damage Piedmont was inflicting from the outset.
The answer lies in three factors, first much of the looting by the Piedmont government was done without public knowledge or legislative consent. Also it happened within months of the Piedmont army and King arriving in the south. It was a time of great social upheaval and it is understandable that for the average citizen what was taking place was not easily discernable.
Second, there was a genuine sense that the new “unified” Italy was working together to form a new Italy based of constitutional law and civil liberty. Most southerners wanted that and had consistently demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice to obtain that goal. On the surface even the extension of Piedmont law as the new order did not immediately appear as inequitable.
A third related fact, not to be dismissed lightly was that most southerners trusted Garibaldi when he said that southern volunteers would be given pardons and offered commissions and enlistment in the new Italian army. So they believed that at the point of enforcement, military power, they would be equal partners with the rest of Italy. In addition when Garibaldi left Naples in November 1860 he had said he would return in the spring to raise a million man volunteer army to complete the struggle by seizing Rome and the Austrian held territory of Veneto.
So in the early months after the Plebiscite the south exercised patience and hope despite numerous actions by Piedmont that suggested politics were moving in a far different direction then had been hoped. Nevertheless, the reaction of southern Italy to the January 1861 effort to conscript young southern men and former Bourbon soldiers while ignoring anyone who had fought with Garibaldi as a volunteer met with indignation and no support in the south from any quarter. It should also be understood that under the Bourbons rule conscription was not a traditional method of raising troops. In general in pre-20th century societies conscription was highly disfavored among cultures that are agrarian based. Men in such cultures could not afford long service in the military away from their labor on the farms. So the south did not have a tradition of conscription for military service.
It is interesting to note that at the time King Victor Emmanuel II marched southward with half of his regular Piedmont army of 70,000 men. He had to leave half, 35,000 behind to defend and control the north.
So in addition to 70,000 regulars soldiers the King also had in the field in the south at his disposal about 35,000 northern and foreign soldiers who were “volunteers” with Garibaldi, the so called redshirts. Garibaldi had also raised in Sicily and southern Italy by his count about 50,000 southern volunteers. In total a force approaching 160,000 men.
However, even before King Victor had entered southern Italy he and his advisors decided that for trust reasons it could not absorb into the regular army most of Garibaldi’s volunteers. The concern was that these men were too much under the influence of Garibaldi and the Mazzinian republican movement. This prejudice applied whether the “volunteers were southern or northern. As a result potentially 70,000 to 85,000 men were removed from the fight and taken out of the mix. Since the January recruitment had not gone well, the Piedmont regular army probably only numbered between 90,000 and 100,000 men by the end of February 1861. Had Piedmont not nixed incorporating the volunteers it should have than a force approaching 200,000, instead.
Cavour and the other ministers and military advisors in Piedmont knew that this size force, 85,000 men was grossly undersized to hold on to what had been gained in Italy or to launch an independent military action against the Austrians in Veneto. Cavour always the master of misdirection had hoped to employ a tactic wherein the Austrian forces would be distracted from defending Veneto because of uprisings in the Balkan territory of the Empire. Cavour hoped to pin the Austrians down in such a conflict by supplying rebels in the Balkans with arms. Unfortunately that plan was discovered in January 1861 when his arms shipment was found out in transit.
As a result Piedmont temporarily abandoned Veneto and the Balkan plan as a priority and fixed their gaze on Rome. But here a direct assault on the remainder of the Papal States could not proceed until France could see a way to extricate itself from the role of Papal protector. In addition, the estimated 60,000 to 70,000 former Bourbon troops that were released without conditions into the southern countryside during Garibaldi’s campaign presented a threat of unknown potential against the Piedmont regime’s control and power in the south. If former King Francis now in exile in Rome could rally these former soldiers, a potential collapse of control of southern Italy might occur.
February, March and April 1861
After mid-February 1861 continued progress by Piedmont toward annexation of the rest of Italy had the added layer/annoyance of debate within the newly formed “unified” Parliament. The problem with understanding the Italian/Piedmont politics and political maneuvering of this time is that Italian political leaders often relied on misdirection and pronouncement of goals far from what they actually were attempting to achieve. Frequently traditional texts cite to disagreements between King Victor Emmanuel and his principle advisor Prime Minster Cavour. Usually, the King is portrayed as more malleable and Cavour as the more aggressive, firm and stubborn. Parliament is also portrayed as more deliberative and occasionally antagonistic to the Prime Minister or the King than it was. What you see in the public record of the day is an intentional creation of a good cop/bad cop scenario. Since the regime, both during and after the events of this time, went to great lengths to preserve a false transparency it is often difficult to find wherein lies the truth of either the governments direction or true intent.
By way of example, I wrote in the last article that Cavour one of the most gifted and astute political negotiators of the 19th century made, through both the appointment of poor negotiators and their confused instructions, an absolute debacle of the negotiations with the Vatican in January, February and into March of 1861.These diplomatic efforts arose at a time when Cavour’s Balkan rebellion needed to appear to be on the back burner. Keep in mind that during the negotiations Napoleon III was supposed to be the defender of the Papal States. Despite this he publicly encouraged a negotiated settlement between the parties which could only occur with the Vatican agreeing to give up both temporal and territorial authority. Napoleon secretly supported the Italian cause. However he feared the internal French political ramifications of publicly appearing against the Pope. So despite the fact that he and his ministers were in direct contact with Piedmont ministers he had to publicly appear neutral. When the negotiations failed in April, which I believe they were intended to do, Napoleon was in a position, publicly to appear exasperated. He was then free to suggest one last settlement proposal. A proposal that included the withdrawal of French troops from Rome in exchange for assurances from Piedmont that they would take up the defense of the Pope. That proposal was put forward with full knowledge, participation and authorship of Cavour. Smith in his work on Cavour describes the proposal as follows;
“In the middle of April, Napoleon put up a new and very interesting proposal for discussion. Under this suggestion the French garrison in Rome would be withdrawn over the next few months. In return, Italy would allow the papacy to keep a truncated state round the city of Rome with up to five million subjects, and would also guarantee to defend it from outside attack. A broad hint also arrived from Paris that this would leave the way open for the Pope’s subjects to rise in revolt one day if so minded, by which time France would have washed her hands of the whole affair”. Cavour by Smith pages 261 & 262.
The amount of duplicity at work in the above is further highlighted in the continued explanation of the process;
“Cavour at once realized that it was the best bargain he was likely to get and would in fact give him almost all that he wanted. He could promise with a clear conscience to protect this last relic of the temporal power against an invasion that was most unlikely to take place. He would not be obliged to defend the Pope against internal revolution, but on the contrary would feel free to intervene after a decent interval, on the pleas of having to prevent this miniature Papal State from becoming a focus of revolutionary action. Privately he promised Napoleon that he would permit Rome t remain tranquil for six months once the French had withdrawn; to Garibaldi he said three months, after which anything could happen.” Cavour page 262.
So at least there is in the proposal an admission that both the French and Italian governments were working toward the same solution, France out, Piedmont in and the Pope’s secular authority diminished in Rome. Both regarded he authority and ability of the Pope to influence secular matters as a direct threat to their power. The Pope who was by now totally distrustful, and with good reason, of any proposal by Piedmont in April refused both to recognize the new unified government of Italy and flatly rejected the proposal. In fact by giving the Bourbon King Francis sanctuary in the Papal state he openly maintained the threat of a return of the King to the southern kingdom. I would mention that in April both England and France did officially recognize the new united nation of Italy with King Victor Emmanuel II as its sovereign. The Pope’s rejection of this last proposal brought to an end Piedmont’s and Cavour’s “attempt” at resolving the Rome annexation question.
One of things that the above quote also demonstrates is that Garibaldi although in “retirement” on his island, and appearing to be in disfavor at the Piedmont court was being consulted as late as mid-April on progress toward annexation of Rome by Cavour. Cavour who frequently is traditionally portrayed as the anti-Mazzini/Garibaldi force behind the King in history accounts. But as I said the duplicity and misleading/misdirection politics are a hallmark of this regime. Allowing the players and their positions to be confused provided some flexibility to the political agenda at work.
As a further example of misdirection Mazzini who remained in virtual house arrest in Naples in 1861 was said to be considered for a pardon by the King but that idea was shot down by Cavour. The same Cavour as above who was meeting with the pro Mazzinian Garibaldi, curious. Having discussed the above examples we are at an appropriate point in this article to segue into the issue of the status of the volunteer forces of the south and what they were understanding or being led to understand was their circumstance and their future role in unification.
As we stated recognizing that Piedmont’s military force had to be greatly increased beyond its 1860 level an attempt to do that was begun as early as January 1861. The initial attempts were less than successful in bringing the forces up to the level needed or training required. In March the issue of army reform reached the political hallways of the Italian Parliament where Cavour maintained a large majority. So despite whatever the debate record might indicate the Parliament was going to vote the pro-Cavour policy line.
“The issue of army reform came before Parliament in a dramatic debate on March 23, during which Cavour made clear that the reorganization of the armed forces was in his opinion the most urgent of all the problems facing the country. But when Lamarmora’s alternative policy was supported from the benches of the left, most notably by Brofferio and Crispi, the government sensed political danger. During the debate one of Garibaldi’s ex-generals let fall a remark suggesting that Cavour had made considerable difficulties for the volunteer army during the conquest of Sicily, and also that the French permission for the invasion of Umbria had been obtained on the plea of thus bringing Garibaldi’s victories to an end. Both remarks were true, but the Speaker, Rattazzi, in the interests of national solidarity called them “impossible and false” and hence ruled them out of order…
Another aspect of the policy in which, as Cavour had to admit, Fanti was desperately ineffective was dealing with the soldiers of the former Bourbon army and Garibaldi’s volunteers. Some of the Bourbon senior officers had been admitted at once into the new Italian army, preference being given necessarily but perhaps unfortunately to those who had deserted to join the Piedmontese in the summer of 1860. Most of the rank and file were left to disband, and sixty thousand unemployed ex-soldiers added greatly to the problem of “brigandage” in the south. But Cavour backed Fanti in preferring to conscript new younger soldiers in Naples rather than face the problem of admitting veterans from an enemy force who had obeyed their oath of allegiance rather than desert.” Cavour at page 258.
I should also point out that approximately 60,000 ex Bourbon soldiers residing throughout the south were called in to report as part of the initial January draft. My understanding is that around 51,000 failed to report. This may give some measure of how large the problem of ex Bourbon soldiers and their defiance might have appeared to the new regime.
From the above it is clear that in reconstructing the plan for new enlarged army, Piedmont felt the need and intentionally focused on recruiting from the south only those former Bourbon officers who had shown no loyalty or ethics in defending their homeland and King. As to rank and file conscription they focused on Neapolitan lower and poor young draftees who did not have the where with all to avoid the conscription and who would be most malleable to the will of officers and noncommission authority who commanded them.
As previously mentioned the “new” army also had no place for the rural Garibaldi southern volunteers either.
“Many of the fifty thousand volunteers who claimed to have fought under Garibaldi’s command had gone home when the fighting came to an end. Most of the of the other junior ranks were given six months’ pay and disbanded, because few of them were prepared to sign on as regulars for fixed term of years. The most difficult problem was the inflated number of seven thousand officers that Garibaldi had appointed, especially as a good number of them had seen no fighting, or very little, and could hardly expect to keep their rank in competition with seasoned products of the military academy in Turin.
Garibaldi understood this difficulty, but was resentful that the senior army officers were so strongly prejudiced against all volunteers that they continued to treat them with contempt. It seemed wrong to him that more favorable treatment was afforded to regular Neapolitan soldiers who had recently been fighting against the Piedmontese.” Cavour at page 258.
The author of “Cavour”, Mr. Smith is in the above description taking the traditional view of Italian history. Revisionists however question the motivations of Piedmont and focus on the control factor that Piedmont wished to exercise over the south as the principle motivating Piedmont concern in the selection/exclusion regarding military personnel.
In early April, the complex military situation in the south got progressively worse.
As noted there were as early as February some ex-Bourbon soldiers throughout the south that when faced with “unemployment” took up “brigand’ life styles. General Della Rocca who was charged with maintaining order favored harsh and unyielding suppression as a tactic. Cavour “had to accept the advice of local military commanders that repression, martial law and even executions without trial would be necessary. More and more troops had to be sent to the south to deal with “brigands”, who were sometimes simple malefactors but were often loyal subjects of the deposed Bourbons, or Catholics outraged by a policy of despoliation and secularization…
After receiving Cavour’s instructions to act with the maximum severity, General Della Rocca ordered that no time be wasted in taking prisoners because “brigands” deserved only summary execution and the imperative need was to “inculcate terror”. General Pinelli in February authorized his soldiers to be pitiless in “purifying the countryside by fire and sword” against “the hired assassins of the Vicar not of Christ but of Satan”. Pinelli was censured for this tactless order, but Crispi stated in Parliament that such repressive action was not an effective answer to disaffection; it would merely be further stimulus to a widespread movement of political reaction”. Cavour at page 254.
Drawing of General Enrico Della Rocca
At this point in April with elements of the south, ex Bourbon soldiers and Bourbon loyalist, spiraling toward reaction against the harsh repression of the Piedmont army a new twist was added to the mix. Those Garibaldi “volunteers” in the south that had been previously during the Bourbon regime labelled brigands for their anti-Bourbon activities were suddenly ordered by the Piedmont administrators to immediately surrender to their local authorities for arrest. In Basilicata that order affected between 2,000 and 2,500 men and probably four times that amount throughout the south. Needless to say generally the response of this new class of declared “brigand” was to go back up in the hills to escape arrest. There was little reason for these men who had already been lied to on the issues of pardons and commissions in the new army would trust to the justice of the administrators in Naples and Palermo.
The former brigands who had fought alongside of Garibaldi for a united Italy also had another very practical reason for not turning themselves in for arrest. They were well aware of how the Piedmont regime was treating former ex Bourbon soldiers held as prisoners. Following the conclusion of the military conflict with the Bourbons, Piedmont had taken and held a number of Bourbon soldiers as prisoners of war. Their major fault seems to have been that the y remained loyal to their King and were therefore considered a threat to the new regime. Southern Garibaldian volunteers now found that Piedmont was considering them as a threat and so they could expect similar treatment. The exact number of ex Bourbon soldiers held in the Piedmont prisons is unknown as records were apparently poorly kept by intent. Best estimates of ex-Bourbon soldiers kept imprisoned after the end of hostilities in February 1861 range from between 24,000 and 51,000 men. Figures suggested in Roberto Martucci book L’invenzione dell’Italia unita at page 201; there were about 50,000 Bourbon prisoners… 10,000 Neapolitan soldiers were imprisoned in the fortresses of Ponza and Ischia, to be prey to typhus, cholera, louses and dysentery. Foreign prisoners were immediately released, as well as those belonging to very important families. But not all of them: Farini, when he was lieutenant-governor of Naples, considered all prisoners, even Bourbon generals, as rebels without a country and this even before the fall of Gaeta”.
Photograph of the fortress prison at Ischia
In an earlier article regarding the 1848 uprising I described the conditions in Bourbon prisons including Ischeria. After Gaeta fell many Bourbon prisoners of war were eventually shipped to prisons in northern Italy. According to Martucci’s research by October 1861 this included 12,447 held at the concentration camp of S. Maurizio near Turin and approximately 12,000 more in various other prisons. To understand the conditions in these northern prisons Martucci at page 215 cites to a letter written by General Lamarmora to Cavour in which describes a visit to a prison in Milan; “he found 1,600 Bourbon soldiers “all covered by scabies and worms, many of them suffering from eye disesase or venereal diseases”, to his utmost surprise, this “herd of swine”, “these scoundrels”, “these dregs” refused to join the Sardinian troops; prisoners “claimed their right to go home because they did not want to make a new oath since they had sworn loyalty to King Francis II”.
Martucci also included reference to treatment that include “that at Fenestrelle, glasses were removed from the windows to make these people suffer even more from cold and convince them to join the new army, but they did not give up.”
So given the above the fact that many of the southern volunteers now considered brigands again and akin to ex-Bourbon soldiers that they were unwilling to submit to arrest is understandable. The fact that by increasing the number of potential “brigands” that Piedmont forces were hunting down might led to civil war apparently was not of major concern to Cavour. Nor was he concerned that he was condemning men who had fought and bleed for a united Italy. He was convinced by his military that they were up to the task of resolving any conflict or objection by harsh and summary military methods. This is reflected in comments he made concerning the outbreak of the American Civil War:
“His (Cavour) immediate reaction to the news from Fort Sumter was to say that succession by the southern states of the American union would be unfortunate, but probably could not be avoided since they constituted “almost if not altogether” a separate nationality. Just possibly this pessimistic view reflected a similar but concealed fear about southern Italy. He certainly took events in America as a warning of what might happen if a state abdicated too many powers to its constituent regions. La farina went further and asserted that just because they were both federal states and racially divided, the United States and Switzerland were not strictly nations at all, and would disintegrate at once if confronted by any European army.” Cavour at pages 263 and 264.
If you are curious as to the reaction of the rest of Italy to the use of excessive force and suspension of all civil rights of the “brigands” in the south the answer is simple. “Comment inside Italy was necessarily muted, because the facts were not generally known and those who knew were most adverse to exposing this failure to outside eyes.” Cavour at page 255.
Continued failure to recognize the northern “volunteers” did ultimately force Garibaldi himself to take action. While I would like to think that his eventual response was the result of the injustice levied against his former comrades however in arms I suspect that was not the case. Rather I think Garibaldi was attempting to feint concern in order to regain interest in a volunteer campaign to assault the Papal States and or Veneto. I could not find any public statement by Garibaldi that decries the injustices or his broken promises to southern volunteers after November 1860 thru April 1861. At any rate on April 18, 1861 Garibaldi “unexpectedly” showed up at the Italian Parliament.
In Smith’s description of the events of the day;
“On 18 April there was a tragic confrontation when Garibaldi appeared in his incongruous red shirt and poncho to take his seat on the extreme left of the camera while other redshirts packed the public galleries. He started to speak in favor of the volunteers, but lost the thread of his argument and in a moment of uncontrolled passion, to cheers from the galleries, repeated the accusation that the government in 1860 had come close to provoking civil war. He must have known that he was hopelessly at a disadvantage challenging experienced ministers in debate, and Cavour in reply was able to protest angrily if inaccurately that the possibility of civil war had never entered his mind. A tumult ensued and the debate had to be closed while tempers cooled. After it was resumed, the government had a majority of a hundred and ninety-four votes against seventy-nine, Garibaldi being among those who abstained; apparently some of the provocative words he use were then tactfully deleted from the public record…”
There is irony in the fact that in this confrontation between Cavour and Garibaldi both raise the specter of an Italian civil war as it relates to the treatment of the disenfranchisement of the volunteers. The first obvious point is that the confrontation occurs precisely at the time that the American Civil War escalates into a shooting war with the siege of Ft. Sumter. But the greater irony is that these two players probably knew that their actions would create the futile response of an aggrieved population patriots primarily in the south and they could care less. It was all about the end game for the two of them, and casualties of war were necessary and to be expected.
The confrontation/drama then and in a very public way continued and appears to have been orchestrated into an escalation; “the division became more bitter when General Cialdini, with Cavour’s approval, sent Garibaldi a note that was virtually a challenge to a duel, repeating the gratuitous and incredible accusation that Garibaldi had given an order to fire on the Piedmontese in September 1860.”
The challenge apparently got the public’s attention as I believe it was meant to do, “immense anger was caused by this challenge. In Naples a mob demonstration took place with the cry of “death to Cavour and Cialdini”. In Milan and Mondovi there were attempted insurrections and some people called for a republic….”
This allowed the King to step in as the benevolent monarch bring peace to the parties and confirmation of the continued goal of total unification.
“The King summoned the aggrieved parties to the palace to make a formal truce. Garibaldi was told that the government still intended to win Venice from Austria but not yet, and accepted this information in good faith, though he requested that more generosity be shown to those of the volunteer officers whose fate was not yet settled…after which he pledged his support for the final unification of the peninsula when the government decides that time was ripe”. “Cavour” at page s 259 & 260.
I have to say that if the above rendition of events as described by Smith in “Cavour” is even remotely accurate then I find the whole episode highly suspect. First I doubt that a public figure such as Garibaldi could leave his island home and travel to Turin without it being widely known. My understanding is that his whereabouts and activities were closely monitored by Piedmont. In addition he shows up at a session of the Parliament in full redshirt garb with loads of fellow redshirt packing the galleries. Sounds to me to be less than spontaneous and staged.
It does however place Garibaldi in the light of a good commander looking out for his mistreated comrades. However, he conveniently loses the argument/public debate and the point of his speech. Based on his long history as a motivator and belligerent rebel, Garibaldi’s temperament and will to succeed does not line up with this quick acceptance of defeat. In addition the fact that he “abstains” on the vote on the motion that he brought further suggests inconsistencies that are hard to reconcile.
The fact that he is “challenged” to a duel at Cavour instigation, and that nothing comes of it also is inconsistent with Garibaldi’s character. Garibaldi is not known for ignoring insult or challenges. However the threat duel again does raise sympathy for him among his supporters/volunteers. Once again he can be cast as the defender recklessly risking his life for his men. The King then is cast as the peacemaker between the two warring factions, allowing the underlying issue of mistreatment of the volunteers to be lost in the drama. With the King in front of him Garibaldi fails to raise his Parliamentary petition and appeal to the highest authority in the land. Very curious.
Of course the end result is that the Piedmont military is then free to press their war on brigands in south with no political opposition. The War against the “Briganti” has begun.
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