The People and City of Naples Saved, September 6, 1860
BY: Tom Frascella September 2015
On the morning of September 5, 1860 as Garibaldi marched triumphantly, with only a small entourage, unopposed into the City of Salerno, the Bourbon King Francis sat in his Palace in Naples contemplating what he should do next. While the “wolves” were not quite at the gate the King knew they were now close at hand. The common people of the City of Naples and the young King had long held each other in genuine respect and affection. But the question remained for the Monarchy, would they fight for him. His hope that the people of Naples would rally to him was in stark contrast to the way the people of the rural south had responded thus far in Garibaldi’s campaign. The fact that the Bourbon Monarchy was regarded poorly in the rest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had greatly aided Garibaldi and the insurgent forces. Now Garibaldi and his insurgent force were literally days away from reaching Naples and most of the provinces of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had already gone over to Garibaldi and the cause of Italian Unity. The King’s options were rapidly dwindling.
King Francis sat in the Neapolitan Palace on that fateful morning, in his war consul chambers, trying to determine what his next military move should be. He was determined to resist the force employed against his regime. He needed now to decide how to best utilize his depleted military resources. As usual the King was receiving contradictory advice from his principle ministers. Many of those same ministers secretly plotted his downfall. In addition the military intelligence he had available on the number and location of Garibaldi’s main force was unreliable at best. Presented with a clouded picture of tactical conditions, it nevertheless was imperative that the King make some crucial decisions given the proximity of Garibaldi in Salerno. Essentially, the King had three choices available to him.
The first was to go out and face Garibaldi at the head of his army on the plains of Campania. An aggressive counter-offensive was long overdue from the Bourbon regime. The day before, based on a concern that the 12,000 troops he had stationed at Salerno might or would defect, he had ordered those troops back to Naples. That force in whole or in part he hoped would remain loyal to his cause. The fact that he held such a concern showed that distrust of his own troops had already fatally crept into his calculations. However, the immediate effect of his order to retreat was to create the opportunity for Garibaldi to enter Salerno and southern Campania unopposed, which Garibaldi hastened to do literally days ahead of even the smallest contingent of his forces.
In issuing the order to withdraw, he also erased the Bourbon defensive line at Salerno. If the line was not reestablished immediately there would be no military obstacle along the coastal plain for Garibaldi. Once garibaldi could gather his forces he could advance from Salerno to Naples just 33 miles to the north. The movement of forces along the coastal plan would allow for a relatively easy march as opposed to a march through the rugged mountains of Basilicata. The coastal plain was lush with many farms to draw on and it also offered Garibaldi the ability to be re-supplied from the sea. If King Francis did not reestablish a southern defensive perimeter, Garibaldi’s forces had free range and could be at the Capital in two days march.
The King also had to be concerned that if the people of Naples learned that a southern defensive line had been abandoned he might be encouraging panic and possible immediate revolt within the City. Some of King Francis’ advisors encouraged him to commit troops to a southern defense of the City by engaging or establishing a new defensive battle line in lower Campania. They advised that it was not too late to stop the retreat of the forces from Salerno and to reinforce them if necessary. If nothing else this could provide the people within the City with some measure of security. Numerically in fact, the King still had superiority of forces in the south although it is unclear that he knew that.
Theoretically, the King possessed an army comprised of the retreating 12,000 that had been positioned in Salerno and approximately 45,000 troops positioned in and around the City of Naples. It is unclear whether he knew that the bulk of Garibaldi’s forces, 16,000 men, were still in Calabria and at least twelve days away from rejoining him. Had the King known that and that Garibaldi only had 1,500 men near Salerno he may have made different tactical decisions and plans. However, based on everything in the historical record the King thought Garibaldi’s main force was closer and more potent than it was.
In addition, to the 57,000 troops the King had, most of his naval forces were intact and located in and around the Bay of Naples. This should have provided him within the capitol with protection from the sea. In addition the ship board mobile batteries would have been formable against a landside attack. They could also be employed at any point along the southern coast. Their potential effectiveness was especially true in that Garibaldi’s forces had little in the way of artillery.
However, the King had to recognize that his naval forces had proven questionably reliable and loyal to the crown in past performances during this campaign. In a real battle or contest the question of which side if any the navy fight for loomed large in the King’s strategy.
Some of his advisors argued that his presence among his troops in the field could psychologically turn the tide and would rally his naval and land forces to perform more aggressively and loyally wherever he brought them to fight, including lower Campania.
The second alternative strategy advised to the King was to make a defensive stand at Naples where his greatest support among the people and his military and financial assets resided. However, the King was also aware that many within his government were already plotting against him. Many, encouraged by the entreaties of Cavour or the Mazzinians believed the Bourbon cause already lost. To defend so large a city against a siege by Garibaldi’s army would not be easy. It would be made more difficult with so many subversives in his midst and potentially within the population. Again, the suggestion to defend Naples was dependent on his physical presence as a rallying point of the will of his soldiers, ministers and the people to fight for him.
Finally, still others advised the King to withdraw from Naples and move further north toward Capua and Gaeta. There he could rally his forces. That military position could be maintained among some of his Kingdom’s most formidable fortresses. A military position near Gaeta would further be protected by the border to the north with the Papal States. Any attempt to attack his forces from the north would bring the Papal States into the conflict.
As the loyalty and willingness to fight for his cause among his troops was suspect, he also considered that from Gaeta and Capua he could better ascertain which of his troops were loyal from those troops too willing to desert to Garibaldi. Free from his Neapolitan minister’s double dealings and disloyalties there was an opportunity he reasoned, to rally true support.
The common element of all three option and advice appears to be that it was realized by all that if the tide of the conflict was to be turned in the Kings favor he needed to lead from the front. He needed to take decisive and direct action as the commander of his army. Whether the young King was capable of such military skill was a question both untested and unknown in the campaign thus far. As reflected in the quote below most historians recognized that Naples knew that the King, himself had to become directly involved in the defense of his crown.
“It was agreed by all parties in the Palace that the presence of the King himself was necessary if the demoralized troops were ever to face Garibaldi again.” “Garibaldi and the making of Italy” pages 171 and 172.
Portrait of King Frances II
I think that it was clear to the military advisors to the King and to the King himself that the Basilicatan situation in particular made the southern defensive strategy unlikely to succeed. While the King’s strategists could draw a defensive line anywhere across the coastal plain of lower Campania, the line would be ineffective. In fact it was probably known that Garibaldi had ordered at least some of his forces toward Naples through Basilicata already. Garibaldi could assault any defensive line established along the coast, or go around it through the passes in Basilicata’s mountains. If Garibaldi did that he could split his force and attack a Bourbon defensive line from two directions. In fact, Col. Boldoni and the Lucanian Brigade’s advance might have been perceived in Naples as part of just such a maneuver. Unsure of the loyalty of the retreating 12,000 the King dismissed this option.
This left him with the two remaining options and an opposing force that in his mind, was only at most 33 miles to the south. The King could expect his retreating forces from Salerno to arrive back at Naples by September 7th, or the 8th at the latest since they had left Salerno on September 5th. Col. Boldoni in command of Garibaldi’s Lucanian Brigade had been sent northward but through the mountains toward Naples also on September 5th from Padula. While the distance was about the same the mountain route was much more difficult and slower. The Lucanian force could not be expected to arrive on the coastal plain by Naples in under 3-4 days. That placed the Lucanian force’s arrival on September 8th at the earliest and more likely September 9th. So, the King knew that if he acted quickly he could withdraw his forces before any of Garibaldi’s forces could reach Naples.
As for Garibaldi, in reality on September 5th he had no force with which to immediately advance on Naples. Once Turr’s force had rejoined within a day or two at Salerno he might consider moving northward with Turr’s relatively small force of 1,500. If he did this it was possible if he were not opposed, to reach the Naples area by the 9th- 10th. If he choose this option he would have to contend with the 12,000 man retreating Bourbon force in front of him and hope they did not put up resistance.
Garibaldi’s other option was that he could wait up to 12 days for his 16,500 men moving up from Calabria to rejoin his forces in Salerno. If he choose this option he could then move that united force northward and if there was no resistance arrive in the Naples area maybe as late as the 18th or 19th.
It would be interesting to speculate what course of action Garibaldi would have chosen had events stayed static. However, events in Naples made such a decision unnecessary.
King Francis understood that choosing to defend Naples would place Garibaldi’s opposing forces in position within days and the siege of Naples would begin. Garibaldi had shown at Palermo that he was willing to bring the conflict into the streets of a capital. King Francis spent the day contemplating what course of action he would take. His advisors waited, uncertain what decision he would make.
To his credit he reached a decision later that day of the 5th of September. Once his decision was reached King Francis called his ministers together and to many with great relief he informed them that he would not subject his city to the potential ravages of an assault and siege;
“It was also common ground, (among his advisors) that the Capital should be spared and should not, like Palermo, be made the scene of conflict.” Garibaldi and the making of Italy” page 172.
Therefore the King began to issue directives for the orderly retreat of his forces toward Capua. Actually, the Kings entire demeanor during the 5th and 6th of September was quite remarkable and bears some review and discussion. His demeanor during this time was described as follows;
“Accordingly on September 5 Francis II announced his approaching departure to his Ministers, the Mayor, and the officers of the National Guard, to whom he committed the charge of keeping order in the Capital during his absence. He spoke without bitterness, of which there seems to have been singularly little in his mind and foolish nature. He excused himself for going but “your Joe, I mean our Joe, is at the gates,” he said to these men, whom he knew well to be preparing in their hearts an enthusiastic reception for Garibaldi.… On the same day he and his brave Bavarian Queen went for their last drive in the streets of Naples. They sat in an open carriage, like simple private citizens, and the passers-by, who took off their hats to them in silence observed that they were laughing and talking together as usual.” (Garibaldi and the Making of Italy) page 174.
The relative calm and lack of malice with which he acted is at best hard to comprehend given the dire and perhaps fatal circumstances he faced. However, things continued in the same vein the following day, again as described by those who attended him or were witnesses to events as they took place in Naples;
“Next morning, September 6, the walls of Naples were placarded with King’s proclamation of farewell to his people. In restrained and dignified language he protested against the way in which he was being driven from his Capital, in spite of his constitutional concessions, and announced that he hoped to return if the luck of war and politics favoured his claims. In the course of the day the main part of the army marched out of the town by the Capua road…A garrison of six to ten thousand was left behind to guard the fortresses of the Capital, but their commanding officers were strictly ordered by Francis II to remain neutral and to shed no blood. … It is probable that he had not clearly thought out what he wished them to do. But it may fairly be said that he adhered in an honorable manner to his decision not to inflict the horrors of war on Naples…” (Garibaldi and the Making of Italy) page 175.
I can only believe that at some level the King was aware and had resigned to himself that while he might have the affection of many of the people of Naples the degree to which he could not depend or trust some of his ministers put his cause at risk. If in fact that is what he thought then the events of his departure helped confirm his perceptions. As described in “Garibaldi the Making of Italy on page 175-176;
“Shortly before six in the evening Francis and Maria Sophia walked down arm-in-arm from the Palace to the dock which lay close under the windows. Both were composed and cheerful. The Queen left her wardrobe behind saying to her maids, “We shall come back again”. The hundreds of Neapolitan grandees and officials who had fattened on the Court for twenty years past were notable by their absence. But faithful Captain Criscuolo received his sovereigns on board “Messaggero” a small ship of 160 horse-power and four guns. As she steamed through the crowded port of Naples, she ran up the signal for the rest of the fleet to follow, but not one vessel stirred. The captains were already in league with Persano, and the prevailing sentiment of the men and still more of the officers favoured United Italy”.
In a footnote on the same page the author indicates; “Some Spanish vessels escorted the “Messaggaro” for a very short distance. Two other small vessels, the “Delfino”and “Saetta”, and the sailing frigate “Partenope” were the only ships of the royal navy which later joined the “Messaggero” at Gaeta. The remaining thirty-five vessels of the fleet passed over to the National cause.”
So the perception that the Royal Navy was unreliable or in barely disguised revolt against the King was very accurate. One has to question whether this was not largely the case from the outset of the campaign. Some historians have suggested that some key officers within the army and navy of the Bourbons had succumbed to brides by the Piedmont regime from the outset. This would have to be considered a possibility in light of the unprecedented failure of especially the navy to act aggressively throughout the conflict.
After the King’s departure at about six in the evening of September 6 the City of Naples came under the control of Minister Liborio Romano who’s authority rested under his Bourbon title of Minister of Police and the Interior. Upon the departure of the King by ship Romano summoned the City’s Mayor, Prince d’Alessandria and the General of the City’s National Guard De Saugret. Romano had several days previous reached out to Garibaldi secretly to convey his willingness to replace his loyalty to the King with a pledge of support for Garibaldi. He had gone so far as to suggest a coup could be started against the King which Garibaldi had discouraged.
The Neapolitan officials recognized that an uneasy peace and control existed in the Capital after the King’s departure. To some extent the continued civil management rested with six to ten thousand Bourbon troops still garrisoned within the Neapolitan fortifications. However, there was no way of knowing whether these troops would remain disciplined and support the civil authority. As to the City’s independent forces, they had only the National Guard which were little more than a police force.
They determined that if civil order was to be maintained that Garibaldi needed to arrive as soon as possible with enough men to ensure his safety from the Bourbon troops at hand and the control of the civil population of the City. Toward that end they dispatched two officers of the Neapolitan National Guard by rail to inform Garibaldi of the King’s departure and that the City awaited his arrival.
Apparently and probably logically most of the Neapolitan Ministers and officials expected that Garibaldi would arrive triumphantly at the head of his forces within a few days. No one could predict how the 12,000 retreating Bourbon troops coming up from Salerno and the 6,000-10,000 men garrisoned in the Neapolitan fortresses might react to Garibaldi march on the Capitol. However, a real concern over a violent confrontation was clearly a possibility and considered. The potential threat could only be thwarted in their minds by the arrival of garibaldi with and overwhelming military force.
The two officers arrived at Salerno quite late on the evening of the 6th. Garibaldi had already retired for the night. The officers were ushered in before Col. Consenz, Garibaldi’s chief of staff, and reported the King’s departure and that the Mayor of Naples and the head of the Neapolitan National Guard would arrive early the next morning to discuss Garibaldi’s entrance in the City. Garibaldi was not awakened by his staff that evening and was not told of events taking place in Naples until the following morning.
On the following morning Garibaldi was told of the events and that the Mayor of Naples and the commander of the City’s National Guard were arriving at his headquarters that morning. He then sent a telegram to Minister Romano, who he knew to be in charge in Naples which stated:
“As soon as the Mayor and commanding officer of the National Guard arrive from Naples, I will come to you. I am waiting for them first.” (Garibaldi and the Making of Italy) page 177.
Minister Romano wired back;
“Naples awaits your arrival with the greatest impatience to salute you as the redeemer of Italy, and to place in your hands the power of the State and her own destinies…I await your further orders and am, with unlimited respect for you, invincible Dictator.” Page 177.
The Neapolitan authorities arrived rather early on the morning of the 7th shortly after the exchange of telegrams. Garibaldi was annoyed that the authorities expected him to delay his entrance into Naples until the City had time to erect triumphal arches for him to parade his victorious army under them. I think that he did not see himself as a conqueror but rather as a liberator. He was further annoyed with his staff suggested that he not go to Naples until his army had rejoined him at Salerno. They argued that there were almost 20,000 Bourbon troops still north of Salerno and in Naples, so the approach without his own full force was not safe for him.
It is at this point that Garibaldi again does something which is hard to understand and contrary to reasonable action. He declared he was going immediately to Naples without a military force at all. Basically, he gathered up his command staff and the Neapolitan officials and sent a telegram to Naples to expect him by noon that day. He then left Salerno with his small entourage by carriage journeying two miles north to the town of Vietri, which was the closest southern railroad terminal. At Vietri he and his companions boarded the train which had earlier brought the Neapolitan officials to him. He took with him on the train as a military escort only the forty or so Neapolitan National Guard soldiers that had accompanied the City’s officials. Literally he headed for Naples without any guard or military forces at all. He was completely exposed and unprotected to anything the Bourbon’s might have sent against him. He did this knowing that there were at least 20,000 Bourbon soldiers that he would have to pass on his way to and in Naples.
Even once Garibaldi reached Naples around mid-day on the 7th he refused to skirt the Bourbon forces within the fortresses, and their batteries of cannon. He choose to boldly enter the City. Once there he went so far as to stand up in his carriage and salute the Bourbon garrison in clear view of his position. He did this not knowing that the Bourbon troops had been ordered not to interfere with Garibaldi’s arrival by King Francis II. Once Garibaldi was welcomed into the City the Bourbon Troops began a four day peaceful surrender of the fortresses to the Neapolitan Guard. Once the surrender of the fortresses was effected the Bourbon troops peacefully withdrew from the City. The abandonment of the City by the Bourbon troops appears to have been completed by the 12th of September.
I should note that from the 7th of September through the 12th Garibaldi had mostly to depend on the Neapolitan Guard and Minister Romano to maintain civil order within the City. These local forces were eventually supplemented by Turr’s 1,500 Piedmont troops. The 2,500 men from Basilicata were held outside of the City as they were undisciplined rural insurgents not trained and disciplined soldiers.
Interestingly, although efforts were made by Neapolitan authorities during the Bourbon withdraw to persuade the Bourbon troops left in Naples to switch sides they choose to rejoin the King. It would appear that King Francis finally had a loyal force of around 55,000 men to lead from Capua and Gaeta.
It is clear that there were many opportunities for the Bourbon forces to escalate tensions or to start a direct responsive military action during the transfer of power in the Capital. There were also many opportunities to assassinate Garibaldi as he was totally exposed during the transfer. It is also clear that an escalation did not occur because King Francis did not want or order it to occur. While it is difficult to understand why no such orders were given by the King as a direct result, the city of Naples was spared the ravages of internal civil conflict and destruction. Naples was saved from the ravages of war by the passive controlled actions of King Francis, not Garibaldi. There is no doubt that if resistance had been met or put up by Bourbon loyalists, Garibaldi would have used whatever resources he had available to take the City by force. If that cost lives and did large scale damage he would have been considered those acceptable losses for the cause. He had demonstrated that clearly in Palermo.
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