Coming of Garibaldi
The fall of the House of Bourbon and the Kingdom of Naples in 1860 is part of the success of the risorgimento, the movement to unite Italy into a single nation. This success is due primarily to three persons: a theoretician, a politician, and a soldier.
The theoretician, the ideologue, the one who preached national unity, was Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72). He was not a particularly practical man, and he spent much of his life in exile, proclaiming from abroad the idea of Italian unity as a fulfillment of destiny, one which he apparently saw as a nebulous combination of ancient Italian glory and reasonable aspirations to modern nation-statehood.
The politician of the risorgimento,
as shrewd as Metternich and Bismark, was Camillo
Benzo Conte di Cavour (1810-61) prime minister of
the Kingdom of Piedmont. Northern Italy in the mid-1800s
was a patchwork. There was Piedmont, Lombardy, Modena,
Venezia, the Papal States, etc. etc., each a sovereign
state. It was Cavour who had the political acumen to
handle the problem of northern unity before turning to
the greater one of unifying north and south. He was,
however, a conservative and calculating man, one who
favored a gradual process of unification over
politician Cavour might have had his way if the soldier,
Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82), as a young man in
the 1830s, had not wandered into a tavern where the
theoretician, Mazzini, was holding forth to fellow
members of the revolutionary group, Young Italy.
you mean by Italy?" asked one. "The Kingdom of
Naples? The Kingdom of Piedmont? The Duchy of
"I mean the new Italy… the united Italy of all the Italians," said Mazzini.
"At that point,"
recalled Garibaldi in later years, "I felt as Columbus
must have felt when he first sighted land."
As a pirate, patriot, soldier of fortune, lover and guerrilla fighter from Italy to South America, Garibaldi had a patent on the swashbuckle. He survived imprisonment, torture, severe wounds and exile. As a general, he was fearless, commanding respect and loyalty from his men by fighting right alongside them in hand-to-hand combat. He was a man of action with an acute sense of justice and a childlike belief that good would triumph over immorality and corruption. He didn't want to win battles for politicians —he distrusted them. He was simply and truly out to smite evil. He was what most twelve-year-old boys want to be when they grow up, and if you ever have a strange dream in which you are beset by enemies and plagued by wrongdoers, and your dreammeister lets you choose whomever you want for help, take Garibaldi. Ask Cavour and Mazzini. They took him, and they didn't even like him. He was that good.
Thus, in May of 1860,
Francis II, King of the Two Sicilies had excellent
reason to worry. Garibaldi, over the objections of the
ultra-cautious Cavour, had just smuggled a small and
almost unarmed (!) group of men out of the port of Genoa
aboard two leaky tubs and set off to liberate the
Italian south. He would start in Sicily, in support of a
local uprising, and work his way over to the mainland
and on up to the capital, the city of Naples. He cajoled
and threatened weapons and ammunition out of the
commanders of a few armories along the way as he plodded
south toward Sicily, where his famous "Thousand
redshirts" (1,089, to be exact) would take on a regular
army twenty times that number. (Garibaldi set sail from
Genoa on May 5 and landed in Sicily on May 11.)
The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had a sizable army and the largest navy in the Mediterranean. Socially and politically, however, it had been standing still since the post-Napoleonic Restoration in 1815, surviving the Carbonari revolution of 1820 and successfully resisting calls for reform only by being propped up by the Austrian army and Swiss mercenaries. Many of the kingdom's liberals and intellectuals had left, and by 1860 even King Francis could sense what was coming. In June of that year (after Garibaldi had already taken Sicily!) he revived the constitution of 1848 and relinquished his absolute powers. There was even talk of an alliance between a liberalized Naples and the Piedmont kingdom of northern Italy, an Italian federation, of sorts. This, indeed, would have been a watered-down risorgimento, but it would have thwarted Garibaldi.
Even northern politicians, primarily Cavour, while theoretically in favor of Italian unification, were aghast at the thought of a popular revolutionary army led by a thousand redshirted lunatics storming up the peninsula, spreading a message of instant universal brotherhood. Garibaldi, after all, in his youth had had to do with a mystic band of Christian communards, the St. Simonians, who, years before Karl Marx, had preached: From each according to his capacity; To each according to his works; The end of the exploitation of man by man; and The abolition of all privileges of birth.
Garibaldi landed at
Marsala and a few days later engaged a superior force
near Calatafimi. He threw caution to the winds (he
didn't have very much of it to begin with), said, "Here
we either make Italy or die", and led a ferocious
bayonet charge uphill, literally overrunning the enemy.
And that was more or less
that. Sicilian irregulars in rebellion against the royal
forces had been watching the engagement from nearby
hillsides. They liked what they saw. Soon Garibaldi's
forces were swelled by a ragtag collection of rebels
armed with guns, axes, clubs and whatever else could
kill a Bourbon. Together they marched on Palermo and by
ceaseless guerrilla street fighting drove the Bourbon
commander into asking for an armistice, the only
condition being that royalist forces be allowed to leave
the island for the mainland.
With 3,500 men
under him, Garibaldi then crossed to the mainland on
August 19 and started the 300-mile slog in the heat of
summer up towards Naples, his reputation preceding him
by leaps and bounds. Peasants were already calling him
the "Father of Italy," mothers brought their
babies out to be blessed by him, and there was an air of
natural invincibility about him as he moved north.
There is much discussion even today about exactly how a relatively small band of Garibaldini, augmented at most by a few thousand irregulars picked up along the way, managed to make their way up the peninsula against what, at least on paper, appeared to be an overwhelmingly superior force. It is probably best to view Garibaldi's victory as resulting from a combination of factors. First, Garibaldi, himself, was a master of the hit-and-run harassing tactics that would one day become known as "guerrilla warfare." He was also a firm believer in Napoleon's dictum that "morale is to material as ten is to one"—and his Redshirts had morale to burn. They were the righteous bringers of a new nation, and there is little doubt that large numbers of the long-suffering peasantry in Calabria and Puglia (perhaps less so as he moved further north towards Naples) genuinely viewed them as liberators.
situation in the Bourbon military also worked to
Garibaldi's advantage. There was massive desertion among
royalist troops, many of whom felt that they were now
bound up in defending a lost cause. Additionally, the
officer corps had been bitterly split for at least a
decade between old-guard royalists and those who felt
that the time for a united Italy had come at last.
All this, and more, combined to produce the unlikely sight, on September 7, 1860, of Giuseppe Garibaldi and a small group of companions entering Naples unopposed, by train (!) from Salerno and then in an open carriage from the station to the Royal Palace. They were miles ahead of the army. The king had fled to Gaeta the day before and the city and remaining troops welcomed the Risorgimento by giving Garibaldi a hero's welcome.
A Bourbon force of about 20,000 troops had remained loyal to the king and gone north with him. Initially, the king had intended his retreat as somewhat of a strategic withdrawal. He had no intention of surrendering his kingdom without a fight. His army, near Gaeta, was, however, also being pressed from the north by the advancing army of King Victor Emanuel of Piedmont, who had finally decided to get on the bandwagon of unification before Garibaldi got all the credit. Thus hemmed in, the Bourbons made a desperate effort in early October to break out and retake their kingdom by storming south at the Volturno River. Garibaldi was called upon for one of the few times in his life to fight a pitched battle instead of one of his guerrilla actions, and to defend instead of attack. He commanded troops along a twenty-kilometer front against a superior attacking force and held.
On October 25th, near
Capua, Garibaldi greeted Victor Emanuel of Piedmont's
Royal House of Savoy with the words, "Greetings to the
first King of Italy" and surrendered his conquests
—Sicily, half the Italian peninsula and the vast
Neapolitan Royal Navy (considerably superior to northern
Italian fleets of the time) —without the slightest
hesitation or thought of reward for himself, simply
because it was the right thing to do.
For their efforts,
Garibaldi and his superb men were completely and utterly
snubbed by the new rulers of Italy. The egalitarian
initiatives such as free education and land reform that
Garibaldi had set up during his brief reign as "Dictator
of Naples" were revoked, provoking for another
decade in much of the south what almost amounted to a civil war as recently liberated
subjects of the Bourbons took to the hills to escape
their liberators from the north.
like the way things had turned out, but figured it was
just more injustice he would have to straighten out when
he got around to it. He spent the last twenty years of
his life actively trying to do just that in one way or
another, in one place or another. He would fight more battles,
be arrested and imprisoned (he escaped) and even be
elected to parliament. He didn't have a political bone
in his body, and he continued to be saddened and
confounded by the politics of those who refused to do
the right thing. The Kingdom of Naples, which Garibaldi
had handed to Victor Emanuel on a silver platter, was
officially dissolved on Oct. 22, 1860, when Neapolitans
voted by plebiscite to become part of Mazzini's "new
Italy…united for all Italians".
last sustained military action* by the Bourbons against
the armies of united Italy was as heroic as it was
useless. After the battle of Volturno, Francis II and
his faithful men and officers retreated to Gaeta,
circled the wagons and prepared to go down fighting.
From November 1860, to February 1861, the city was
subjected to a ferocious bombardment. Without the
slightest chance of withstanding a siege, much less ever
getting their kingdom back, and with no ulterior
strategic goal, the Bourbons of Naples resisted and
fought the way brave men do who have nothing to lose.
Napoleon III of France implored them to give up, as did
even the attacking Italian commander, Bersaglieri
commander Cialdini, who said that he would be honored to
fight against such valiant troops if it weren't a case
of Italian against Italian. (*But see this item, The Bourbon's Last Stand.)
After 8,000 of his
men had fallen in the siege, the King told those who
wanted to leave to do so. Almost no one left. Histories
of the siege are replete with truly moving accounts of
the young queen Maria Sophia
on the ramparts, herself, encouraging the defenders and
refusing to eat so that her food could be given to the
wounded. Apparently, when honor had been satisfied, for
one can think of no other reason, Francis agreed to
surrender. He and his wife went into exile in Rome as
guests of the Pope. When the Papal State fell in
1870, they settled in Paris. He died in 1894, his wife
The Bourbon dynasty
was the high point as well as the end of the existence
of southern Italy as a separate nation. Today, 140 years
after the irresistible Risorgimento (bearing in
mind, of course, that judgments about "irresistible" are
always easier after the fact) forcibly incorporated the
Kingdom of Naples into greater Italy, it is still
difficult to draw dispassionate conclusions that balance
the former existence of the South as a separate and
respected European state against the subsequent
advantages as part of a single greater nation.
This is a link to a good 19th-century political cartoon plus accompanying article from Harper's Weekly about Garibaldi's conquering of the Kingdom of Naples at