The Lucanian Spring Campaign 1861
By Tom Frascella August 2016
By mid-April 1861 Lucanian insurgents, loosely identifying themselves with pro-Bourbon sympathizers, had attracted enough attention, by capturing a handful of small towns in the County of Melfi, to force a Piedmont response. At this point the insurgents, being primarily local men, generally had the sympathy of the common folk and the secret support of some of the regions wealthiest men. Many of these men who hailed from Bourbon supported heritage felt their fortunes in decline under the Piedmont government. A number of insurgents had gathered under the informal leadership of Carmine “Donatelli” Crocco, himself a local, born in the town of Rionero. Initially, these insurgents were gathered from a number of sources, former highwaymen/outlaws, pro-republican liberals, unemployed ex-Bourbon soldiers and young local peasants seeking to avoid the Piedmont notice of conscription. There total number was small in the early spring of 1861. Their commonality as a force was that they were aggrieved in the current political climate of the region. In mid-April after capturing the County seat of Melfi, Crocco’s force as a group numbered somewhere between 200 and 400 men.
It may seem odd that Crocco who had been an ex-Bourbon soldier and deserted as well as an anti- Bourbon volunteer with Garibaldi would at this juncture seek any kind of connection to the Bourbon cause. This is something that Crocco acknowledged in his book when he stated;
“You should have seen a military Bourbon district; and I saw it and understood everything. I saw how many infamies were committed, and the whip, the cane and the executions, and the terrible punishments, so that we as soldiers thought: This is your and your men’s kingdom. Protect it with the help of your soldiers, and I will die for your glory and to keep the crown on your head.”
“But someone will say, and they will be right, that you knew the Bourbon infamies, but after their fall, you fell into the mud and put yourself and your mates at the mercy of a cause, which had aroused in you so much horror.” How I became a Bandit, page 44.
So it is clear that Crocco’s allowing his band to be associated with the Bourbon cause early on was not out of love of the Bourbons, he loathed the Bourbons. It was also not out of a sense that a return of the Bourbons would result in a better life for him or his followers. It is important to realize that from personal experience he knew precisely the life and treatment an ordinary soldier in the Bourbon army should expect. What then explains his willingness to associate with the Bourbon cause? The answer in part stems from a type of regional personal loyalty, distinct from a national identity, many Lucanian peasant farmer class individuals culturally knew and adhered to.
Being from Rionero, Crocco’s family had long had its modest survival tied to the fortunes of the Fortunato family specifically, the family of Giustino Forunato 1777-1862. The Fortunato family was wealthy, and composed of very important elite by the standards of the town. Crocco’s father had spent his lifetime as a farmer on the Fortunato estates.
Giustino’s notoriety in politics is impressive for his long and rather malleable political career in Naples not Rionero. He seems to have had an exceptional career distinguished for surviving/prospering during a fifty year stretch which included the first Neapolitan republic, the subsequent reinstatement of the Bourbons, Joseph Murat reign and once again the reinstatement of the Bourbons. He seems to have been a man possessed of all political convenient positions with a strong sense of self promotion and gain.
Giustino Fortunato (1777-1862)
Giustino Fortunato held many important positions during his career. He was trained as a Neapolitan lawyer and was first nominated a Judge during the Parthenopean Republic in 1799 at the age of 22. At this point in his career he was considered a pro-republican liberal despite his family’s connection to the Bourbon Monarchy. His politics actually led to a brief imprisonment at St. Elmo’s castle after the Republic fell, and the Bourbon’s were re-established. He escaped with the aid of friends from the prison and for a while hid with the help of relatives in the Rionero countryside. With the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, his familial connection to the Bourbons eventually earned him a pardon and he resumed his legal profession without much negative impact to his personal fortunes.
During the reign of Joseph Murat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law who was briefly King of southern Italy, he was again appointed to a judicial position. Later during Murat’s reign in 1814 Fortunato became administrator for Chieti in Abruzzi. Again, despite his familial connection to the Bourbons he seemed to follow a liberal anti-Bourbon path which but for his connections would probably hae been deadly to him.
Even after the Bourbon Monarchy of Ferdinand I was restored again, he was able to maintain his bureaucratic position. That is until 1820 when his support for the failed Carbonari revolt, liberal republican cause, of that year was discovered by the Crown and he was dismissed.
After his dismissal he returned to his estates at Rionero where he remained out of the political sphere for almost 21 years. After that time he appears to have been “rehabilitated” as a conservative Monarchist and he was given a palace and appointment from his nephew King Ferdinand II as Minister without portfolio in 1841. Subsequently the King appointed him Finance Minister for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1847.
Following the failed 1848 Carbonari uprising, Fortunato was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of foreign affairs in 1849-1852. He attempted to use the failed Carbonari revolt, and the conspiracy of “liberals, as an excuse to seize some of the Doria estate holdings around Rionero. Apparently, after that failed attempt there was some friction between the Forunato family and that of certain families in San Fele, including the Stia family. The Fortunato family would make numerous claims of complicity with the liberal cause against the San Fele upper class families. The alleged complicity of San Fele families was said by Fortunato family members, to have gone back to the early 1800’s. The charges were never proven but were persistently raised throughout the late 1800’s. It is my understanding that the Baron of San Fele and his relatives often served as administrators for the Doria/Panfili family estates throughout the county of Melfi. In such position they would have acted as stewards trying to protect the estates from encroachment.
Timing is everything and Giustino was once again put out of Francis II Bourbon government shortly before its overthrow. Some question exists as to whether Giustino had switched sides again and was working with the British/Piedmont regime in the overthrow. The suspicion of that may have contributed to the most recent of his ousters. After Piedmont came into power in 1861 he seems to have become displeased with his lack of position or opportunity in the new government. Some of that dissatisfaction appears to have led him to protect Crocco early on, warning him of his imminent arrest in November 1860 and helping fund his initial escape in the hills. Aprile in his book Terroni wrote, “When the Piedmontese arrived, both the common folk, and the landowners had an enemy in common. Their interests and their lives became one. The landowners established Bourbon committees and incited, supported, and hid brigands. Carmine Crocco, in the influential sphere of the Fortunato family, had established the headquarters of his gang on their farm.” Page 82.
As part of the story of the so-called Lucanian “Brigands” of this period is an undercurrent of local power plays. One such undercurrent is an interesting additional element in the eventual composition of the Vulture brigands under Carmine Donatello Crocco’s leadership. Again using Aprile’s book as a reference:
‘The Fortunato and Crocco families were actually almost related to each other. One of Giustino’s uncles the Marquis Felipe had two illegitimate children, sons, from a woman from San Fele. One of those two sons. Giovanni Coppa, grew up to become head-brigand and lieutenant to Carmine Crocco.” Page 83.
So at least initially the wealthy class that was “supporting” Crocco, including Giustino Fortunato, had the loyalty of surrogates within the early bands of insurgent fighters. Their tendency to identify with the former Bourbon regime allowed the early actions of the insurgents to be identified with the former regime. Probably, the wealthy class without being clearly identified with the revolt could draw some sense of legitimacy from the identification that would not have attached to a purely independent insurrection movement. They also were probably hoping for military and financial help from the exiled former King. In any event, by identifying with the Bourbons, the Piedmont regime, which had been concentrating military assets near Naples and northern Campania now also had to focus on suppressing the revolt in Lucania. This would result in ever increasing troop placements and tighter and tighter martial law restrictions on the civilian population of the area.
Photograph of Giustino Fortunato
I think it is important at this time to write a few lines about Giovanni Coppa born in 1838. He will come up in the story of the conflict in Lucania several times between April 1861 and his death in June 1863. He is usually referred to by the name Giovanni “Coppa” Fortunato. Coppa being the family name of his step-father. His step-father’s name then became Giovanni’s, nickname. At an early age he joined the Bourbon army and trained as a soldier. He apparently was one of the Bourbon soldiers that found himself out of a job when Garibaldi began his campaign in the south. Like many of the approximately 60,000-70,000 ex-Bourbon soldiers he returned to his home, for him San Fele in late 1860 or early 1861. Some of these men did not adjust to integration into their local societies. In Coppa’s case whether it was because he had been a Bourbon supporter or other factors in his background things did not go well when he returned home. He was teased and insulted by townspeople and eventually beaten and driven out. His treatment by the townspeople certainly created a bitter feeling in him. However, based on subsequent acts I think he had some real personality disorders that had nothing to do with his treatment and may have in fact been the cause of his treatment by the villagers of San Fele.
Once he became an outcast he took to the hills of the Vulture where he hooked up with Crocco early on in 1861. His military training and his Fortunato heritage, even if colored by illegitimacy, made him initially a valuable and trusted lieutenant of the insurgent leader. According to Crocco’s own account he believed the support that he was receiving from many landowners who he considered allies. He was prepared to accept the opinions and directions of these wealthy men. This included initially his willingness to defer as to objectives and targets in favor of those selected by the landed/Fortunato class.
Those who were targeted within the communities that he attacked were generally identified either by local common folk or by the behind the scenes landowners. Some people were killed either as a lesson/demonstration of the fierceness of the insurgents, or the elimination of long standing personal enemies of the hidden pro-Bourbon landowners.
The Guerilla War Continued
Alerted by secret co-conspirators that Piedmont regular troops would soon arrive, Crocco ordered his men to leave Melfi the County Capitol heading secretly toward Avellino on April 18, 1861. It should be noted that by the time Melfi fell to the insurgents his crowd of supporters had grown quite large. Probably civilian crowds numbering in the several thousand had cheered his attacks on pro-Piedmont authorities in the local towns and villages. Moreover, at least a thousand angry locals offered their aid and support for his revolt. Crocco, who had watched Garibaldi on his arrival in Basilicata knew that most of the supporters he had by the time he took Melfi were not up to the task and hardships of guerilla warfare tactics. He was also aware that he could only survive using such tactics. Therefore, as he contemplated retreating from the advancing Piedmont regular army he took only those he thought could handle the hardships and contribute to the fighting. This greatly reduced his active force’s volume but concentrated the most hardened of “volunteers” to his cause. Still it left him with a force of 300 to 500 men. In Crocco’s own words;
“I realized very soon that if it had been easy to me to fight against the civic militia and attack defenseless cities prepared to surrender with my army of bandits, it would have been impossible to fight outdoors against regular troops, equipped with artillery and cavalry. Neither I could gather all those people who had followed me, so after a right selection among the volunteers, I gave freedom to the less helpful”. How I Became a Bandit, by Carmine Crocco, translated by Barbara Lucianna Di Fiore page38.
Part of Crocco’s disdain for the civil Guard was that the Piedmont Government was drafting primarily younger men 16-20 year olds who they could bend to their will. Crocco referred to these soldiers as “baby soldiers”.
By the time Piedmont regular troops entered Melfi, Crocco was was well gone into the mountains in the direction of Avellino. While he understood the necessity of avoiding a direct confrontation with regular army troops his overall strategy had not change. He began preparing to attack the small village of under-defended Carbonara. Again, his principle purpose was to obtain food ammunition and gold to support his now enlarged force. The Piedmont regular army arrival of several thousand men in Melfi did have an initial quieting effect on the revolt. The civilian population left behind was essentially unarmed or possessing on small arms associated with hunting. Crocco described the arrivals impact on the civilian population in the towns he had “liberated and now abandoned in this way:
“The arrival of the first regular troops had relieved the depressed spirits of the civic guards, so the soldiers already on the way organized themselves in a better way under the command of brave citizens, and helped the other soldiers with the repression.” How I became a Bandit, page 38.
Of course, this meant that with the arrival of the Piedmont force reprisals against those who were identified as having demonstrated insurgency leanings and participated in the attacks of pro-Piedmont officials began to suffer counter reprisals;
“At the same time the rigor of the military commanders, who had perceived severe penalties that were against all those who helped in any way the reaction or the drifter reactionaries, had a great influence not only on the reduction of my band, but also on the decrease of the support of the confidants and the spies.” How I Became a Bandit, page 38.
So in other words, the conflict now entered the phase that insurgent guerilla warfare often creates where the local civilian population come under threat from the insurgents if they supported the Piedmont regime or the Piedmont army if they supported the insurgents. There is no safe middle and everyone becomes suspect.
Rebel leaders generally understand that while some support will be lost among the populace others will be drawn to the cause by the abuses of the government troops. In fact, often guerilla warfare leaders act in ways as to ratchet up the animosity of the foreign troops in order to get them to over react and commit atrocities on innocent civilians.
But for Crocco this early in his campaign, he inherently knew he needed both to keep his force fed/ supplied and to keep it on the move and out of the reach of the Piedmont army. The only way he could keep his army supplied was to continue to attack and loot unprotected villages in the mountains.
After Carbonara next came the village of Calitri which resisted Crocco and his forces unsuccessfully and paid a heavy price in looting as a result. Again, possessing no more than 5,000 available troops in the majority of the south made it impossible early on for the Piedmont army to follow or more importantly intercept Crocco and his forces’ movements. The Piedmont high command knew this which resulted in a gradual build-up of an additional 10,000 troops to the area over the course of the summer of 1861.
But before that build-up could occur Crocco had a relatively free hand to strike wherever he wanted in northern Lucania. From Caltri Crocco and his men went to Sant’ Andrea and then to Conza. In each he acquired supplies, arms and some recruits to his cause. More importantly he forced the Piedmont arm to extend their limited resources.
In May, Crocco divided his forces into several sub-bands in order to split them up over a larger area thus making it more difficult for the Piedmont forces with limited support from the National Guard to contain. Also in so doing, the small bands were better able to sustain themselves living off of what the land had to offer. Crocco, himself remained close to the forested area of Lagopesole and to his home territory of Rionero. In so doing he designated several men to command each of these sub-bands. These men in turn commanded units of smaller bands commanded by Lieutenants. A number of the men, who Crocco referred to as Captains, had some experience as soldiers in the Bourbon army. Among his initial captains was Giovanni Coppa Fortunato. As the number of insurgents grew slowly over the summer the number of bands and the number of Captains increased. In addition he began to put together a unit of cavalry which would be headed up by a young subordinate Insurgent Lieutenant by the name of Giuseppe Nicola Summa better known for his nickname Ninco Nanco who was a native of the Vulture born in 1833.
Again, as this is an insurgent name that will come up a number of times a brief introduction to him is appropriate. Ninco Nanco was born in the Vulture to a poor but honest farming family. He had relatives that had run-ins with authorities but his father’s principle problem seems to be that he drank too much.
He went to work in the household of a local wealthy landowner at an early age and eventually became a farmhand at a vineyard. He married at eighteen but the marriage only lasted two years. Apparently he was hot tempered and prone to fighting. In early 1860 at the age of 27 he got into a fight with some local men and was seriously wounded stabbed in the leg. He did not report the stabbing to the authorities but instead waited until he was healed and sought revenge. Ultimately he killed one of his attackers with an axe. For that he was sentenced in August 1860 to ten years at Ponza prison but escaped.
Now wanted by the Bourbon authorities, he saw Garibaldi’s arrival as an opportunity to change his fortunes. Unfortunately for him he was rejected for service with Garibaldi. He then sought to join the National Guard but was also rejected, probably because of his age. Unable to return home he was forced into the mountains and began to survive as a brigand. It is there that he met Carmine Crocco in January 1861 becoming one of his early supporters and trusted comrade. Crocco always keep Ninco close and put him in charge of one of his greatest and rarest assets his small cavalry.
Vincenzo Totaro Di Gianni
I have previously written, in the first July article, there was a band of insurgents, from San Fele, that came to join Crocco during his campaign. This band was headed by Vincenzo “Totaro” Di Gianni whose photograph was included in that previous July article. I further indicated that from what I could discern from my readings the San Fele group and Totaro himself were not a part of the original April uprisings and subsequent early actions of Crocco. As I understand it they came into being in the later spring/summer of 1861. I should also mention that between dissatisfaction with the Piedmont regime and the actions of the Piedmont army once it arrived in Lucania, the insurgent forces grew to approximately 1,000 men by late summer 1861.
With regard to trying to patch Totaro’s personal story of “brigandage” together a number of sources had to be used and still the information is incomplete. What I think I understand is that Totaro was a native of San Fele with no criminal history prior to the spring or summer of 1861. I have read that he got into some sort of argument with a regular Piedmont army officer shortly after the regulars arrived in the Melfi area. They were sent in to quell the uprising and drive Crocco out of the county capitol of Melfi about twenty miles from San Fele. The argument, according to information I have read does not seem to be related to the uprising. Therefore I think the point being made is that Totaro was not openly “political” early on. There is the suggestion that the argument involved an insult to a female family member. This is not an uncommon rationale in many of the stories and explanations given to how many became “outlaws”. At any rate the altercation escalated with the result that Totaro killed the officer.
Historically, when a local got into this kind of situation they generally escaped into the mountains and lived an outlaw existence. Men from the poorer classes did not have the resources to escape further away. Escaping to the mountains is apparently what Totaro did. The story however after that escape does not follow the normal track. According to what I have read the army reacted by coming into San Fele, seeking out Totaro’s wife who was seven months pregnant at the time, and executing her in the town square.
This act of unprecedented reprisal on a defenseless family member, not only sent Totaro off the deep end but created a band of sympathetic supporters willing to seek revenge for the act. This San Felese band although small in number, was resolute in its intention to make the army pay for the act. Under Totaro orders and direction the San Felese band would, over the next several years, earn a reputation as one of the most feared, by the Piedmont army, bands among the insurgent troops. They were very active not only in the Potenza Povince but throughout Basilicata. Totaro and his men took part in all of the major organized battles between Piedmont and Crocco that would follow.
In terms of where the San Felese insurgents fit in the insurgent structure, I gather that they answered to an insurgent commander named Teodoro “Corporal Teodoro” Gioseffi. I mention this as readers seeking more information should know that references to the actions of Corporal Teodoro or Totaro are in reality discussing the group to which the San Felese band was attached. So Corporal Teodoro will be mentioned in articles moving forward as we discuss the insurgent campaign between 1861 and 1864. I would also note that a great deal of activity both small clashes and larger ones occurred in and around San Fele and the rest of the Vulture during the first six months of the armed conflict.
Photograph of Teodoro “Corporal Teodoro” Gioseffi
I would be remiss if I also did not mention that the politics of northern Italy in particular the politics of the closest advisors to the King suffered an interesting loss in the summer of 1861. In late May Prime Minister Cavour who had been in declining health for most of the spring began to get noticeably weaker. It was Cavour who helped plan and was the main author of the centralization of authority under the King in the early months of the year. Part of the necessity for this plannig was to control national elections by appointing local officials. In the book “Cavour” by Denis Smith the politics at work were described in this way;
“There was also one further important reason why prefects and mayors should be appointed by the central government and given wide powers, because without their active assistance Cavour knew that he would find it much harder to secure the victory of official candidates in parliamentary elections.” Page264.
Cavour is generally considered by most historians as a control addict. Again citing to Smith’s work;
“A contemporary quip described Cavour as being the minister in charge of all seven government departments, and although he said he wanted to reduce his responsibilities, in practice he was more than ever frightened of delegating or sharing power. Azeglio commented that he has created a complete void round himself in which he has no real collaborators, only instruments. Ricasoli made the same point when he said that Cavour wanted servants who obeyed, not friends or assistants; and the Swiss minister in Turin was surprised to find towards the end of May that even other members of the Cabinet were still being kept in complete ignorance of major aspects of government policy. Page 265.
In regard to that specific policy in the south, on what would be his final meeting with the King on June 4th, Cavour is reported to have said from his death bed;
“He spoke of his obsessive concern for the Neapolitans; they were greatly talented, he said, but might need years of education in liberty before their region was purged of its corruption and could become, as it should be, the richest province of Italy. “Cavour, Page 271.
Themes of southern wholesale “corruption”, and the need for proper “education” and “purging” in the population are clearly present in Cavour’s musings regarding the south. This attitude toward the people of the south was not only Cavour’s but was reflective of many in the King’s cabinet. As early as 1861 the attitude was already a dominant influence for the government actions toward the south and would be moving forward.
While quick to judge the south for its “corruption” It is also clear that the north regarded the south as an unlimited cash cow. It is clear that the northern ministers did not understand what made the southern economy work. What is more they did not recognize the inconsistency of considering the south both backward, corrupt and On June 6th Cavour died. Although, the power would shift it unfortunately did not shift to those with any greater sympathy or understanding of the culture, value or sentiment of the masses of southern Italians.
Photograph of Prime Minister Cavour
© San Felese Society of New Jersey
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