THE MAZZINI AFFAIR
By: Tom Frascella June 2015
Photograph of Giuseppe Mazzini
Most of the recognized revolutionary “native leaders” in the Sicilian region were strongly associated by the Italian/Sicilian people with the Young Italia movement created and developed by Giuseppe Mazzini in the 1830’s. Most had been long term associates of Mazzini, participating in one or more his inspired but unsuccessful revolts, including the 1848 rebellion which briefly established a Republic in Rome. Mazzini, favored a democratic republic, not a monarchy throughout his career. However, as previously discussed many of his associates began to believe that only a strong constitutional monarchy could establish a “unified” Italy. These men, including Garibaldi, then drifted toward support of Victor Emmanuel II and his plan for unification. Unification, became key to their efforts beginning in the mid 1850’s. The form of government became secondary to their desire for unification. The practical goal of a united Italy became more important than the concern for the manner and particulars of governance.
This shift to practical politics by some of Mazzini’s closest and most loyal comrades, including Garibaldi, caused a rift among the young Italia/Carbonari leadership and placed Mazzini largely on the sidelines. This was particularly true in the early stages of the planning and execution of the “Second War of Unification”. The shift in focus of the “Young Italia” movement toward a unified country under a constitutional monarchy also began to become popular among many of the common people of the Italian peninsula. Mazzini a perceptive and intelligent political advocate saw the movement that he gave birth to, “Young Italia”, now moving away from his influence. In the currents at play, Mazzini saw that he was being marginalized and was in danger of being completely left out. For his part, the veteran revolutionary at fifty-five years of age, was not willing to be left out. He sensed after the war between Piedmont and Austria that an international European shift of the great powers in support of an Italian monarchy had also begun. Mazzini’s associates included many revolutionary contacts in most European countries. From these contacts he discerned that a Piedmont headed unification movement was clearly being supported by English and French interests. As a result Mazzini too reluctantly shifted his focus and support to a goal of unification under Victor Emmanuel II. Mazzini made his way to Piedmont Sardinia as preparations were underway there for Garibaldi’s “southern” campaign. A campaign that Mazzini hoped would result in all of the territories, Piedmont, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Papal States and Verona uniting as a single country.
For their part Victor Emmanuel II and his advisors did not trust Mazzini but recognized that his support was valuable. His reputation alone could stir the masses to support “unification” under a monarchy and further the annexation goals of the Piedmont regime. Mazzini’s presence in northern Italy also legitimized the international communities’ initial perception of Garibaldi’s campaign was a “peoples’” volunteer endeavor. For those reasons Mazzini’s support was welcomed by Piedmont. However, Piedmont’s distrust of the old revolutionary as anti-monarchist meant they would keep a close eye on his activities. His writings, travels, meetings and associations were closely followed by the regime which was prepared to step in and arrest him if necessary.
For his part, at least publicly Mazzini in his writings towed the Piedmont political line. In a letter written in early June Mazzini writes to Bertani, “I have no republican intentions. I strive for nothing but Unity. The cry Viva la Repubblica would seem to me a real mistake at this moment”. “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy”, Trevelyn, footnote 1, page 45. So he was supportive of the endeavor but would not go so far as to abandon his preference for a republican form of government.
Probably only the most optimistic of the players in the southern campaign could have imagined that Garibaldi, with such limited resources could manage a campaign that could go so well so fast. By the June 2nd surrender of Palermo the pace of the success of the campaign and the risks associated with its early success began to accelerate. The problem of holding the military gains made and solidifying the political situation mounted. By the time that Piedmont decided to release and the manner of release of additional “volunteers” to Garibaldi demonstrated to Mazzini that Piedmont had concerns regarding the loyalty of the force. Mazzini knew that additional troops were necessary to stabilize Garibaldi’s Sicilian position. It would appear that by June 6 or 7, Mazzini must have sensed that political changes were occurring at the Piedmont court with regard to how control was to be achieved.
Mazzini had been a “revolutionary” for over thirty years. He had lead uprisings that had some success but ultimately failed. He had also successfully used the printed word to rally a generation of Europeans to nationalism. The one thing that is very remarkable is that he had “survived” those failures as well as the wrath of a number of authoritarian governments. Many regimes had placed a warrant for death on him through the years, but he always escaped to continue the struggle. It has to be recognized that Mazzini had incredibly good instincts for survival in the world of political intrigue and back dealing. It could be that those instincts were set off once again in early June of 1860. Whatever the reason Mazzini quietly and without notice disappeared from the Genoa scene around June 7th -8th right around the time that the “volunteers” were leaving port and beginning the journey to aid Garibaldi in Sicily.
Once Mazzini was discovered missing rumors began to circulate that he had been seen boarding one of the vessels with the “volunteers” bound for Sicily. Panic ensued among the Piedmont regime’s advisors, especially Cavour. If Mazzini made it to Sicily with Garibaldi, Cavour reasoned, he might succeed in diverting the entire course of the campaign or worse rally the insurgents to another democratic republic like the 1848 endeavor.
On June 12 Cavour sent the following message to Piedmont’s Admiral Persano stationed in Palermo:
“We are assured that Mazzini and Miss White have embarked on board the “Washington” that is taking volunteers to Palermo. Send La Farina to Garibaldi to invite him in the King’s name to arrest Mazzini, and to give him into your hands. He must tell him that Mazzini’s presence in Sicily would necessitate the recall of the squadron and ruin the national cause in Europe. You will send Mazzini to Genoa on board the Piedmont warship “Carlo Alberto”… Should Garibaldi refuse to have Mazzini arrested you will immediately prepare to depart with the fleet and will send the Piedmont warship the “Authion” to Cagliari to receive instructions.” “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy” by George Macaulay Trevelyan, page 51.
La Farina was President of the National Society, one of the cover organizations set up in Piedmont by Cavour to disguise the raising of “volunteers, money and arms for the invasion of Sicily. Originally the Society was headed by Garibaldi. Garibaldi resigned when the invasion was activated and Cavour appointed La Farina, a Sicilian national loyal to Piedmont as the new figurehead of the organization.
After the fall of Palermo La Farina was sent to Sicily on orders of Cavour to demand that Garibaldi immediately declare the annexation of Sicily to Piedmont. Garibaldi and his staff regarded La Farina as Cavour’s man, not necessarily the King’s man. Garibaldi and his staff generally both ignored and disliked La Farina and for his part La Farina reported back to Cavour very negatively on Garibaldi’s actions in Sicily.
Based upon his personal interactions with Garibaldi, his knowledge of the man and Garibaldi’s long standing relationship with Mazzini, La Farina was not pleased to receive the orders from Cavour concerning the arrest of Mazzini. In fact, in part fearing for his own safety, La Farina refused to have any part in delivering the arrest orders to Garibaldi. As a result Admiral Persano had to undertake the task of delivering the orders to Garibaldi himself. It is reported that Garibaldi respected Admiral Persano and perhaps for this reason or that he regarded the Admiral as just the messenger, Garibaldi tempered his response to the orders. However, Admiral Persano, left the meeting with the clear understanding that neither Garibaldi nor his staff officers had any intentions of arresting Mazzini should he arrive in Sicily. The Admiral thought the better of any attempt at further discourse on the subject.
The Admiral thought the better approach was to send one of his ships to intercept the “Washington” at sea and arrest Mazzini there, thus avoiding direct confrontation. On June 17, 1860 the commander of the Piedmont warship “Gulnara” intercepted the “Washington” at sea off the coast of Sicily. The commander of the Gulnara demanded the person of Mazzini, who was said to be accompanying Mrs. White the British wife of Alberto Mario another Sicilian revolutionary and Mazzini ally, for immediate arrest and removal.
As it turns out De Rohan aboard the transports had no idea what the Piedmont commander was talking about. Yes Mrs. White was aboard but she was accompanied by, as she had throughout the voyage, her husband Alberto Mario. It turned out that Mazzini had never left Genoa, and was there busy about trying to raise funds for an assault on the Papal States. This plan supported by a number of the old revolutionary guard. To take the southern campaign further than Sicily or the Kingdom to the Two Sicilies and attack the Papal States was favored by Mazzini, Medici, Bertani and Garibaldi. However, Piedmont, fearing France’s objection and defense of the Pope, under no circumstances wanted or supported the plan at this time. Therefore they considered the efforts in such a direction as impractical and to be discouraged.
After it was determined that Mazzini was not aboard the transports De Rohan’s fleet of three ships and 2,500 “volunteers” continued on to Castellamare arriving on June 18, 1860. The arrival was met by Garibaldi and Admiral Persano who then lead the men, rifles and supplies to Palermo arriving there on June 19th. The departure of the final elements of the Bourbon troops in Palermo on June 20th allowed Garibaldi to cast his attention toward the remaining 15,000 Bourbon troops controlling the eastern part of Sicily and the continuation of his Sicilian campaign.
Piedmont’s distrust of Mazzini’s “supportive” efforts was not completely unfounded. Besides trying to take the campaign further than Piedmont wanted to go there were real questions as to whether Mazzini thereafter to then undermine Piedmonts Monarchy. A letter written by Mazzini to his republican comrades, Nicotera, Mossto and Savi dated June 19 is relevant to the point and coincides to the time frame in question. In that letter Mazzini writes; “He would prefer the “neutral banner” and the single cry Italia, leaving the form of government to be settled by the nation later. But if the leaders of the volunteer movement insist on Garibaldi’s cry, “Italy and Victor Emmanuel,” Mazzini will make no protest: even against that, and “will follow the column in silence.” “Garibaldi and the Making of Italy”, footnote 1, page 45.
With the added 2,500 redshirt “volunteers” Garibaldi was able to redistribute arms and reconfigure his fighting force. He decided to divide his manpower under three of his commanders, the first being Col. Turr. Col. Turr was an experienced Hungarian military officer who had chosen to “volunteer” with Garibaldi. Generally, dividing one’s force is a risky military strategy. But as seen throughout his campaigns Garibaldi as a commander was not risk adverse. In addition, he had two concerns, first letting the Bourbon troops entrench and possibly be reinforced. His reasoning that if they suspected an attack they would go on the defensive. Second, he was concerned about losing both campaign momentum and Sicilian insurgent volunteers. When Palermo fell on June 2, Garibaldi had about 6,500 Sicilian insurgents in the city and about 4,500 in the countryside in eastern Sicily. By June 20th he had 500-1,000 fewer in Palermo and 1,000-2,000 fewer in the field in eastern Sicily. The Sicilian insurgents were simply going home to tend to their farms and businesses. So as June 20th dawned Garibaldi had a force comprised of about 3,000 redshirts and about 9,500 Sicilians. So about 12,500 men in all facing 15,000 Bourbon troops.
On June 20th he sent Col. Turr with a modest force of 500 redshirts and Sicilians into the central mountainous region Sicily toward Catania. This was actually more a show than a true offensive. The departure of this force from Palermo was conducted with great public fanfare. Garibaldi knew that the force was unlikely to encounter Bourbon troops in the mountains center region of Sicily. Further, Garibaldi ordered Turr to conduct an intentionally slow advance reaching only about half way to Catania by the end of June. About this time Col. Turr fell ill and would have to be evacuated from the front.
By June 20th after the departure of the Bourbon troops From Palermo there remained a number of political issues to be dealt within the city and the insurgent “held “parts of the island. La Farina, who had only arrived in Sicily two weeks before, was continuing to undermine Garibaldi’s authority not only with Piedmont but with a number of Sicilians. He organized protests and petitions calling for the immediate annexation of Sicily to Piedmont. He and his “followers” publicly advocated that only such official “annexation” to Piedmont could secure Sicily’s protection from Naples. He used the Sicilian fear of the remaining Bourbon troops on the island to argue that the Bourbons could try to retake the island at any time. Nevertheless Garibaldi held his ground showing no concern of Naples mounting a counter-offensive.
On June 25th Garibaldi further reduced the number of men he had in Palermo, initially about 10,000 by sending Col. Bixio and 1,200 men along a southern coastal route in support of Turr’s expedition. Again a great show was made of this departure as Garibaldi wanted to excite the locals to confidence and to concern the remaining Bourbon soldiers on the island that attack was imminent. While it is true that the Bourbons could have attempted a counter-offensive none occurred during this period. Both Turr and Bixio’s expeditions, a combined force of only 1,700 men, proceeded eastward without resistance from the Bourbons.
In late June Garibaldi continued to busy himself making plans for a major assault on the remaining Bourbon forces on the island. He also continued to develop and secure civil administration. However, the international political picture was rapidly changing in the north. By June 25th it had become clear to Piedmont that Austria had no intention of providing any help to the Bourbon regime. This fact, emboldened the Piedmont regime, who remained concerned about Garibaldi’s end game intent and his refusal to push for immediate annexation of Sicily to Piedmont.
On June 29th Piedmont confident in Austria’s neutrality sent 650 modestly disguised “regulars” to Sicily aboard the transport “Medeah”. Although Garibaldi claimed they were Piedmont regulars who had deserted or regulars whose term of service had ended, virtually no one was fooled. These “volunteers” were clearly Piedmont paid regulars.
Nevertheless the arrival of these new volunteers in Sicily marked the beginning of Piedmont regulars being stationed on the island. While these additional veteran troops certainly bolstered Garibaldi’s force he had to be aware that Piedmont was changing its strategy. It was the arrival of this small number of “Piedmont” troops on July 1st that signaled a radical shift in the conduct and control of the Sicilian campaign. Garibaldi was still military man “in charge” but now the Piedmont regime had veteran soldiers on the ground. Soldiers more loyal to the regime in Garibaldi’s midst.
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