Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell

The British Legion

After the battle of Milazzo, Garibaldi, conversing with his English friends in the castle of that place, raised the question whether it would not be feasible to profit by the enthusiasm of the British nation for the Italian cause and induce a larger number to come out and share in the operations about to commence on the mainland. The idea had been suggested by an English gentleman, Mr. Hugh Forbes, who, it will be recollected, had accompanied him in his perilous retreat from Rome to the Adriatic in 1849, and, by the way, quite a different person from Captain C. S. Forbes, of the Royal Navy, that friend of Peard who marched as a non-combatant with the advance guard of the Red-Shirt army and recorded his experiences in a book.

Since the failure of the Roman revolution Hugh Forbes had found scope for his energies in America, where he had allied himself with Captain John Brown, of Harper's Ferry fame—the would-be liberator of the southern slaves.

Although Garibaldi favored Forbes's proposal as to the formation of a British Legion, he would not appoint him commander of it, and Forbes, who had but lately arrived, was left behind as Governor of Milazzo Castle. On mentioning the project to his other English advisors, Garibaldi found them singularly lukewarm. Mr. Dolmage, an officer on leave from Malta, discountenanced the idea, while Colonel Dunne, who had not been on the best of terms with his countrymen since resigning the Queen's commission, replied bluntly that he wanted no more of them. His argument was that a horde of civilians brought together at short notice and transported to a foreign shore, though there might be good men among them, could not be trained in time to be of service in the impending campaign, which was not likely to be of long duration. Garibaldi, however, was looking ahead and thinking not so much of the attack on the kingdom of Naples as of the future invasion of the Papal States and the capture of Rome. He therefore adhered to his intention, and a man named Styles was dispatched to England to arrange for the enlistment of a British Legion. Garibaldi was not fortunate in his choice of an emissary. Styles had fought bravely in the Battle of Milazzo, but he was a person of indifferent morals and apparently also deficient in tact, since he and the London committee, which undertook to promote the scheme, were quickly at loggerheads.

Dunne's opinion of the uselessness of a British Legion for immediate service proved to be correct. To begin with, it did not reach Italy till October 15, when most of the fighting was ended, and its composition was exactly as he had foreseen. A large proportion of the men consisted of roughs from London, Glasgow, and elsewhere, fully prepared to try conclusions with the enemy, but expecting to live on the fat of the land and to be exempt from strict discipline. To such people the whole thing was a kind of elaborate outing in which they were to indulge free of cost; and their idea of the expedition accorded very well with the terms of the advertisement by which they had been attracted. Carefully worded for political reasons, the notice ran as follows:

"Excursion to Sicily and Naples. All persons (particularly members of Volunteer Rifle Corps) desirous of visiting Southern Italy, and of aiding by their presence and influence the cause of Garibaldi and Italy, may learn how to proceed by applying to the Garibaldi Committee, No. 8 Salisbury Street, London."

Hence the men of the Legion received the nickname of the 'Garibaldi Excursionists.' Quite half of it was composed of decent elements drawn from all ranks of society. Some were old soldiers, others volunteers, and most of them were actuated by generous sympathy for the Italian hero and his nation. But the inclusion of these estimable allies did not redeem the Legion from the reproach of irregularity and excess; and it earned for itself, on the Garibaldian side, a reputation like that of the Irish brigade in the Papal army. The Italians, however, were ready with excuses. "You see," said they, "these men are not accustomed to a country where wine is cheap."

The British Legion was six hundred strong, and its members presented a fine appearance when, in their red tunics with green facings, they marched up the Toledo at Naples, shouldering their rifles, the muzzles of which were filled with flowers thrust upon them by the excited inhabitants. In a few days they were in action and bore themselves splendidly at their baptism of fire, which occurred in a skirmish before Sant' Angelo that extended to the walls of Capua. On this occasion they lost two killed and eight wounded. Garibaldi testifies to "the brilliant courage they displayed in the slight engagements they shared with us on the Volturno"; and it is not by any means unlikely that, if the war had been protracted, the 'Garibaldi Excursionists' would have returned home with something of the éclat of the White Company of mediaeval days. As it was, most of the glory fell to individual adventurers of the type of Dunne, Wyndham, Peard, and Dowling.

Garibaldi was very severe on plunderers, and anyone in his army found thieving was shot. Once it happened that an English gentleman came upon the body of a Red-Shirt laid between the road and some vineyards as a warning to the rest. "When I remember," he wrote, "the plundering propensities of my own countrymen, I shudder to think of the consequences, should many of them join the army." His forebodings were justified two months later, when five men of the British Legion were sentenced to be shot for plundering on the north bank of the Volturno. The meager fare with which the Garibaldians made shift did not satisfy them, and they had appeased their appetite by dishonest means. The sentence was not carried out, the culprits being punished with imprisonment, probably because they were Englishmen with the robust instincts of their race.

Dunne, as we have seen, had set his face against the raising of the Legion, and it was placed under the command of the chivalrous Peard, who, though deservedly popular with the Red-Shirts, was not cut out for the management of this unruly force. Dowling, an ex-sergeant of artillery, who had served before Sebastopol, and Captain Brown Young, an English officer taking part in the campaign on the Volturno, made effective use of the 'excursionists' in an operation of no small importance. On October 25, Garibaldi crossed the river on a pontoon bridge at Formicola. The Italians had made no bridge whatever, and the want was supplied by the British Legion, aided by some expert confederates, who seemed to be of the same nationality and, as Mr. Trevelyan expresses it, "showed a suspicious readiness for any service connected with ropes and water." Assuming the suspicion to be well founded, it was not the first time that Garibaldi had enjoyed the valuable, but of course unauthorized, assistance of the British Navy.



The construction of the bridge took place under fire. On its completion the Bourbon troops drew off in the direction of Capua, and made no effort to impede the passage of the river. Garibaldi, therefore, with some Italian regiments and the British Legion, crossed over unmolested and marched northward to meet Victor Emmanuel.

On the morning of the 28th an Englishman sleeping in a dry ditch among the Garibaldian outposts was awakened by the cry, "Viva il Re!"  ("Long live the King!") He leapt up in alarm; he had so often heard this cry from the lips of Neapolitan soldiers on the battlefield that he took it for granted that the enemy were upon them. A moment later he learned the real meaning of the tumult; it was the Garibaldians acclaiming King Victor Emmanuel, who was riding by.

Not only the King, but his entire army was speeding over the plain to where, at its extreme verge, lay the camp of the Red-Shirts. Alighting from their horse, Garibaldi and his staff took up a position just off the highway traversed by the regiments of the North, and, as each battalion strode past, the men shot admiring glances at the national hero. Many of the King's officers regarded him with soldierly esteem, but there were some who envied, and others who distrusted, him. The commander-in-chief, General Fanti, was especially a prey to professional jealousy.

It was early morning, and the air was laden with a damp autumnal mist. Garibaldi was wearing his poncho, or loose tunic; and, giving no thought to etiquette or appearances, had taken the precaution of encasing his head in a coloured handkerchief. Altogether, the General and his staff, in their soiled red shirts, were living evidence of the realities of war, while its pomp and circumstance belonged to the gay uniforms of the regular troops that were filing past them.

Suddenly the strains of the Royal March announced the approach of Victor Emmanuel; and Garibaldi and his officers, mounting their horses, moved to the side of the road. Nearly at the same moment a stately figure galloped up on a spirited Arab. Garibaldi instantly doffed his hat, saying as he did so, "Saluto ill primo Re d'Italia" ("I greet the first King of Italy"). His Majesty held out his hand, which his brave subject clasped, and for over a minute neither of them relaxed his hold. Only a few words were spoken:

"How are you, my dear Garibaldi?"

"Well, your Majesty, and you?"

"Very well."

After that, King and General rode on side by side, followed by their respective staffs.

We have already remarked upon the great contrast presented by the simple red shirts of the revolutionists and the shining uniforms, military crosses, and cordons of honor of the Piedmontese officers. It would have been well had there been nothing more, but the King's attendants were not effusive, and certainly there was no such display of gratitude as Cavour had recommended. Inwardly both parties were consumed with bitterness.

The meeting ended, Garibaldi and his force quitted the main road, and turning to the left, proceeded by country lanes to Calvi. The King went straight on to Teano.

Garibaldi and Emmanuel


Referring to this moment of the Liberator's career, Mario observes: "Garibaldi's countenance was full of melancholy sweetness. Never did I feel drawn to him with such tenderness." That evening the General was inclined to be silent, but his real mood was betrayed the following morning when he met Mario's wife, Jessie, who had arrived to make provision for the wounded. Garibaldi looked stern. "My wounded," he said, "are all on the south of the Volturno." But it was not in his nature to be persistently severe, so in gentle tones he explained, "Jessie, they have sent us to the rear." It was quite true. Victor Emmanuel had informed him, while they were riding together, that the royal army would henceforth undertake all military operations, and the services of the Garibaldians were dispensed with.

Capua surrendered to Victor Emmanuel's troops on November 2, and five days later the first King of Italy and Garibaldi entered Naples in an open carriage amidst a deluge of rain. They were received with thunders of applause, and outwardly there was every appearance of unanimity, but the situation was somewhat complicated. During the day several conversations took place between Garibaldi and his royal master, the former being anxious to retain power for a year as the King's lieutenant and procure for his officers confirmation of their military grades. These requests were difficult to grant, and when, on November 8, Victor Emmanuel, seated on his throne, was invested with the kingship of Sicily and Naples, the Piedmontese courtiers and officers standing on one side and Garibaldi and his party on the other were conscious of a rift. All, however, signed the act of annexation, and Garibaldi laid down his dictatorship.

Upon entering private life he issued a manifesto to his countrymen, calling upon them to render loyal support to the monarch and be ready to attend him the following year—a million of them—to Rome or Venice. "By the side of the Re Galantuomo," he wrote, "every quarrel should disappear, every rancor be dissipated."

Ere night Garibaldi sent word to Admiral Mundy that he was leaving early the next day, and proposed to go on board the Hannibal to bid him adieu. He was up before daybreak, and accompanied by some of his more intimate friends, repaired to the port, rowed over in a boat to the British man-of-war, a huge three-decker, and clambered up the side. Informed of Garibaldi's arrival, the Admiral, as soon as possible, quitted his cabin, which he invited his visitor to enter, and the two had a long talk. Garibaldi was very desirous that Mundy should go and stay with him in his cottage at Caprera, and expatiated on the beauty of the harbor between the island and the mainland, where, he reminded the Admiral, Nelson had once anchored.

Passing from the cabin to the quarter-deck Garibaldi noticed the Admiral's visitors' book on a small table—the same on which he and the Bourbon commanders had signed the armistice six months before. Sitting down, he made the following entry in French:

"G. Garibaldi owes to Admiral Mundy the most lively gratitude, which will last all his life, on account of sincere proofs of friendship with which he has been loaded in all kinds of circumstances."

As the great man descended from the ship into the boat, officers and men were profoundly touched by what some of them termed his "look of intense love."

From the Hannibal Garibaldi rowed direct to the Washington, the vessel in which he was to sail to Caprera, and on her deck he took leave of Mario, Missori, and his other companions, who returned to the quay. That he felt their work was not quite done was shown by his parting words: "To meet again at Rome." There remained with him then only his son Menotti and two undistinguished attendants.

In a few days Garibaldi was at work on his farm, putting in seed, succoring his vines, calling his cattle home, and seeking his goats that had gone astray. A visitor from Genoa, who arrived on business some weeks later, described him as in robust health and radiant with a calm and serene joy. In justice to Victor Emmanuel it must be said that Garibaldi's resumption of the simple life was due to no lack of generosity on the part of that monarch, who had offered him a royal castle and a steamer for himself, an estate for Menotti, the title of King's aide-de-camp for his younger son, and a dowry for his daughter. All these good things the disinterested patriot had declined.