Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell

Crossing the Strait

The expulsion of the Neapolitans from Sicily was only part of the task that Garibaldi had set himself. On July 30 he wrote to Bertani from Messina, "I hope to be able to cross over to the Neapolitan mainland before the 15th. Make every effort to send me muskets here at Messina or to Torre del Faro before that date." Accordingly, on the 8th of the next month he sent over to Calabria in small boats a picked detachment of two hundred and twelve pioneers. It was a dark night, and, passing through the enemy's fleet, the expedition landed unobserved in the midst of fourteen thousand Bourbon soldiers. Through some blunder on the part of the guide, a Calabrian patriot, the Garibaldians failed to enter the fort of Alta Fiumara, of which the garrison was believed to be friendly; and, choosing Missori as their leader, they set out for Aspromonte, which became the base of their operations. They soon drew the attention of the enemy by a series of attacks on various parts of the coast, and were well supported by the Calabrians, who furnished them with provisions.

Meanwhile messengers kept passing to and fro across the strait. Garibaldi's instructions were received, and all were on the tiptoe of expectation, looking for the General's immediate arrival. The report at Naples was that he had landed in person. There were further engagements with the enemy, who were in extreme alarm and had been strengthened in numbers.

But Missori's force had also grown, and on reaching San Lorenzo he was in command of five hundred men. The syndic of that place invited them, in the name of his fellow-townsmen, "to take up their lot with them for life or for death," and the Garibaldians agreed on condition that their great chief should be proclaimed dictator with a view to the dethronement of the Bourbon monarch and the establishment of national liberty. The people were summoned to the piazza by roll of drum, and loud cheers were raised as the Italian tricolour was hoisted over the town hall, inaugurating a new era of national government. "Thus," says Signora Mario, " was Garibaldi welcomed, 'coming ere he came.'" On the following day the General's advance guard was surprised and elated by the roar of cannon. They marched in the direction of the sound, and presently a messenger galloped up to them. He was the bearer of a note for Major Missori, who opened it and read as follows:—"I have landed at Melito. Come.—G. Garibaldi."

The pioneers and their comrades reached the General at the moment when he had dislodged the enemy from the heights above Reggio, and his first orders to them were to pick off the gunners in the fort without getting any of their own men wounded. Within half a gun-shot of the fort, thirty of Missori's followers, under the command of Sub-lieutenant Mario, succeeded in killing or wounding all the gunners at the pieces; and after both sides had maintained an incessant fire for two hours, the garrison hoisted the white flag, and the fort was surrendered. As a reward for the "services rendered by the mice to the lion," Missori and his brother-officers were promoted, and—a favor on which they set a yet higher value—were permitted to accompany the General in his march from Reggio to Naples.

So much for the daring enterprise of Missori and his pioneers. We must now explain the position in which Garibaldi had found himself after the surrender of Messina. Although it was his fixed resolve to invade Naples, he had not lost sight of the Papal States, the conquest of which, in his eyes, was an object of almost equal importance. It was for that reason that he had left Zambianchi at Talamone with a small force. Zambianchi's instructions were to do what he could to cause an insurrection in the Papal States, and, if Medici Cosenz, or any of the royal (Piedmontese) generals arrived, to place himself under their orders. For a time all went well. Ricasoli, the dictator of Tuscany, rendered good support; and in a skirmish with the Papal troops at Orvieto the invaders, reinforced by a company of volunteers from Leghorn, had the best of the argument. Here, however, Zambianchi, "a worthless cur," abandoned himself to drinking, and after recrossing the frontier with his troops, was arrested by Ricasoli. His men were indignant and repaired to Genoa, whence some of them sailed to join Garibaldi and others waited to take part in the expedition which, by the General's orders, Bertani was fitting out for an attack upon the Papal States. In its attitude toward this enterprise the Piedmontese Government seems to have vacillated. At first it appeared ready to connive at it, but at length a more or less peremptory message was sent to Bertani in the name of Victor Emmanuel, who was represented as saying, "There can be no departure from this state except for Sicily." This was no doubt intended as a complete interdict on any operations contemplated on the mainland.

Soon after the departure of the pioneers Bertani arrived with the news that an army of five thousand was about to assemble at Aranci on the east coast of Sardinia. It is clear that the ultimate destination of this force was the Papal States, and Garibaldi does not deny it. In his Autobiography, however, he speaks as if his republican friends Mazzini, Bertani, and Nicotera were the moving spirits, whereas, according to Signora Mario, he had been from the first a party to the attempt. That was before he knew anything of the strong opposition of the Piedmontese Government to the enterprise. This, and another circumstance to be immediately recorded, caused him to modify his plan.

Embarking with Bertani for Aranci on board the Washington, Garibaldi found on his arrival that only a portion of the expedition was at the port; the greater part was en route to Palermo. Garibaldi, on making this discovery, finally made up his mind to concentrate his efforts on the Neapolitan mainland. Some of the men were taken on board the Washington in order that their comrades might have more room in their own vessels; and Garibaldi returned to the Punta di Faro. Signora Mario adds that of the volunteers collected for the invasion of the Papal States one half were the first to cross with Garibaldi and Bixio from Giardini to Melito, and the other half, conducted by Garibaldi's orders from the Faro to Sapri, were the first to join him at Naples.

At the Faro there were two steamers, the Torino and the Franklin, with which the General intended to attempt the passage. The Neapolitan fleet was watching this port, and, if the expedition had started thence, it might have been intercepted. Accordingly, the two vessels were sent round the island, taking at first a northwesterly direction, and working their way to Taormina on the east coast, where they embarked Bixio's and Eber's brigade at Giardini, the port of Taormina. Leaving the Faro for Messina on the very day of his arrival, Garibaldi hired a carriage at the latter place and reached Giardini, in time to cross over to Calabria with the rest. He went on board the Franklin.

Both vessels were unarmed transports. The Torino was a screw steamer of seven hundred tons and sailed under the Sardinian flag. Accommodation was found in her for three thousand men, and Garibaldi states that she was in excellent condition. Indeed, he speaks of her as the "splendid Torino." The Franklin was a paddle steamer of two hundred tons, flying the Stars and Stripes; and twelve hundred men were crowded on board her. This vessel could not possibly be described as in excellent condition, as she leaked badly and was capable of making "only a few feet an hour." She seemed likely to sink, and the engineer declared that she could not perform the voyage in that state. Bixio was in despair and thought of setting off with the Torino alone, but Garibaldi, more hopeful, ordered nearly all his officers to dive into the sea and try to find the leak. Meanwhile he sent on shore for a quantity of manure for making what was termed Purina. This was a sort of plaster formed of the material named, mixed with chopped straw; and lumps of it at the end of a pole were thrust under the ship in the direction of the leak. The remedy was effectual—at any rate, partially; and Garibaldi and his comrades reached the Calabrian coast in safety. The width of the strait between Taormina and Melito is about thirty miles.

There were sixteen thousand royalist troops in Lower Calabria, where the inhabitants were mostly in favor of the Dictator. The troops, though not exactly disloyal, were not keen. The Neapolitan ships, when too late, sailed southward, and Cosenz availed himself of their absence to make the passage in a flotilla of rowing-boats carrying from one thousand to one thousand five hundred volunteers, who joined Garibaldi above Villa San Giovanni on August 22, four days after the General had landed at Melito. Meanwhile Garibaldi had stormed and captured Reggio.